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Hernando County man, 19, indicted in child abuse death

BROOKSVILLE — The case against David McBurnett Jr. is straightforward.

Authorities said the 19-year-old man beat his girlfriend's 1-year-old son for months, leaving him bruised, broken and nearly brain-dead.

A Hernando County grand jury didn't waste time Thursday returning an indictment against McBurnett for first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of Hunter Morris.

But Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino said Breanna Underwood — the boy's 19-year-old mother, who witnessed the abuse — will not face criminal charges.

"Just because someone sees something or does something doesn't mean it rises to the level of a criminal offense," Magrino said.

The 21-member grand jury listened to testimony and evidence against McBurnett for several hours before reaching its decision just after 2 p.m.

Investigators said he repeatedly hit the child on his hands and feet with a remote control because the boy wouldn't stop crying. He also struck Hunter with a Nike sandal and his hands, and grabbed the boy by the face and squeezed him, reports state.

Upon questioning, authorities said McBurnett admitted committing the abuse.

Underwood and McBurnett, an unemployed laborer, lived with his mother near Istachatta. The abuse began in March, when Hunter was just 6 months old, reports state. Deputies arrested McBurnett on Sept. 11 on a charge of aggravated child abuse, a week after Hunter was taken to the emergency room with internal bleeding, a fractured rib and bruises that likely left him brain-dead, reports state.

A day after the arrest, Hunter died, and deputies added a murder charge.

Magrino, the chief homicide prosecutor in Hernando County, said he could not comment further about the testimony or evidence because grand jury proceedings are secret.

It takes at least 12 grand jurors to reach an affirmative indictment, which is necessary for first-degree murder charges in Florida.

The murder charge is a capital felony. Magrino said he is still weighing whether to request the death penalty.

McBurnett's defense attorney, Ellis Faught Jr. of Brooksville, whose practice is based in Brandon, did not return messages seeking comment.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Hernando County man, 19, indicted in child abuse death 10/01/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 1, 2009 7:30pm]
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