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A little girl's heart was torn, but how did it happen?

TAMPA — A jury heard two explanations Tuesday for how Makaila Thompson, a 28-pound 2-year-old, died from a torn heart on Sept. 6, 2008.

The little girl could have been beaten and stomped by her mother's 36-year-old boyfriend. Or Makaila could have died from roughhouse play in the bathtub with her 4-year-old brother.

Attorneys offered those scenarios during opening statements at the trial of a frequently arrested landscape worker named Robert Bradwell.

He was the boyfriend who was baby­sitting Makaila and her brother, Keyondre, while their mother worked a night shift at a Walmart Neighborhood Market.

At day's end, a pathologist had affirmed the prosecution's scenario as a likely one. Hillsborough County Associate Medical Examiner Jacqueline Lee described the child's injuries as violent and massive. She said they were consistent with a beating by an adult.

Bradwell is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. A jury of 12 with one alternate — five of them women, most of them parents — spent a long day hearing graphic medical testimony and looking at autopsy photos that showed the naked, battered body of Makaila.

Circuit Judge William Fuente refereed all-day heated sparring between Bradley's two public defenders and two prosecutors.

Through it all, Bradwell appeared calm and relaxed. A bailiff tied a blue necktie for him. He wore a gray suit that was a size too small. The day before, Assistant Public Defender Lily McCarty had urged jurors not to be afraid to look at him. Bradwell looked back at jurors, smiling and holding two thumbs up.

While Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon portrayed a monstrously brutal death for Makaila, Assistant Public Defender Theda James argued her injuries could have been caused by Makaila's brother, Keyondre.

They often roughhoused. James suggested that Keyondre had jumped on his sister's chest. That could have made a small tear in her heart that caused her to slowly bleed to death.

No one knew she was hurt, James suggested. "She went to sleep that night, and never woke up."

Makaila's mother, Monique Thompson, testified that Bradwell often babysat while she worked her night shift. He had a temper, she said, and she had seen him violent. But she said he left discipline of the children to her.

On Sept. 5, 2008, he came home angry that his paycheck came up short. Thompson said she took Makaila and Keyondre to her mother's house so he could cool off. She said she returned home without the children. She and Bradwell made love.

They retrieved the children at about 9, and Bradwell dropped off Thompson at the Walmart. She kissed everyone goodbye.

The next time Thompson saw her kids was after midnight at the University Community Hospital on Fletcher Avenue, near their home. Bradwell had taken them there. He had carried Makaila into the emergency room in his arms. She wasn't breathing. She was cold to the touch. He told nurses she had fallen in the bathtub while showering with her brother about an hour before.

Bradwell was questioned by Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies that night, but was not arrested. He continued to live with Thompson and Keyondre for a month. Then he was charged with aggravated child abuse and felony murder, and Thompson was told the results of the autopsy.

On Tuesday, the last images left with the jury were the photos of Makaila. They showed small bruises on her face and three linear bruises near her left temple. Medical Examiner Lee said they were the type of bruises that would be caused by a slap. The photos also showed a row of bruises along her spine. Lee said she was killed as she lay against a flat surface. The force of a blow to her abdomen radiated all the way to her spine.

Lee also said she found a surprise — a fracture on the back of her head that she said might have occurred sometime before the night Makaila died.

The jury heard nothing about Bradwell's arrest record. It includes arrests for domestic violence, carrying a concealed weapon, cocaine possession and car theft, dating to 1990. Prosecutor Harmon said he would try to introduce that history later in the trial.

When trial resumes today, Bradwell's defenders will cross examine the medical examiner.

An earlier version of this story used an incorrect spelling of Makaila.

A little girl's heart was torn, but how did it happen? 04/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 4:49pm]
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