MARIETTA, Ga. — On the Fourth of July, Brittiany Young returned to her car in a Target parking lot and put it in reverse. That's when she noticed the swollen mouth of her 5-week-old daughter, Millan.
Young put the car in park and turned to her cousin, a 12-year-old Tampa boy she had left alone with the baby.
"What did you do?" she asked. "What did you do to her?"
The mother testified Wednesday morning in a Cobb County, Ga., courtroom, where the Tampa boy faces charges of felony murder and cruelty to children. He has pleaded not guilty. Juvenile Court Judge A. Gregory Poole will decide the case without a jury.
The unidentified boy — a court order keeps his name secret — was visiting relatives July 4 outside Atlanta when his cousin stopped at the Target to pick up food for a picnic. According to court testimony, the 22-year-old mother left the keys in the ignition and the air conditioning on as she shopped at the store for 18 minutes. When Young returned, the boy was playing on his cell phone in the back seat. The radio was turned louder. And the infant was not responsive.
The baby girl was taken off life support the next day. A medical examiner found multiple skull fractures and ruled the cause of death blunt force trauma to the head.
The boy has remained in Georgia since July, first locked up in a juvenile detention center, then transferred to a secure group home.
Authorities said nothing specific about how they think the baby died until Wednesday morning.
"Something so horrific happened that pictures don't do it justice," prosecutor Eleanor Odom said in her opening statement. "That child's head was bashed in."
The boy's attorney, Derek Wright, had another word to describe the prosecution's case: "Impossible."
He said prosecutors would not be able to provide a scenario showing exactly what act of violence befell the baby — no weapon, no points of impact in the car.
By Wednesday night, they still had not.
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In the courtroom, the sixth-grader wore a gold suit — like the one he wore to his elementary school graduation.
When his mother, his father and his great-aunt cried — when the baby's mother cried — he remained composed.
But emergency responders who first arrived at the scene testified that they saw him pacing and sobbing. They noted a different, more calm reaction from the mother. Paramedic Pierce Summers saw her later at the hospital.
"For someone that had had a child in that circumstance, it was surprising," he said, "like she was kind of lost in a fog."
Young described what her baby looked like in the car: eyes swollen and hard to the touch; blood on her mouth or nose; limp.
On July 5, the baby girl was deemed brain dead and taken off life support. The prosecutor asked the mother, "Were you there when Millan died?"
She paused to wipe tears. Then, she said, "yes."
After the judge ordered a break and the infant's mother left the stand, the boy burst into tears. He stood up, turned around and looked at his mother, who stood up from a bench and kissed his forehead.
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For much of the day and into the night, the prosecution focused on three videotaped interviews the boy gave detectives.
The third was the subject of an hourslong debate. The defense fought hard to have it suppressed, saying the boy was forced to give incriminating statements.
During the first, the boy told detectives what he told the baby's mother: The baby began to cry, so he tried to give her a pacifier. She spit it out, so he tried to give her a bottle of water. She kept screaming, and was scratching her face. He turned the radio loud, and it appeared she went to sleep.
The boy's story didn't stray far from his original account in his second interview, which he gave the day after the baby was pronounced dead.
"If you accidentally hurt Millan, would you tell us?" the detective asked.
"Yes," the boy said. "I didn't accidentally hurt her. . . . I don't want to hurt a baby."
But a couple of hours after he gave that interview — while their entire family was gathered at the baby's mother's house — the boy's mother, Camille Curtis, brought him back to speak with police. This time, she was crying. She said he had told her something.
"It was just an accident," Curtis said. "He said he was scared. I asked him. He told me. He thought I was going to be mad."
Detectives asked the boy if he wanted to talk. The boy shook his head.
While the boy continued to refuse, Curtis spoke to police when he was out of the room. She told them the boy was in counseling, that he had been fighting at school, that he had been prescribed Zoloft and a mood stabilizing medicine. Then, Curtis provided a tearful account of what he said happened.
She said he told her the baby started choking when he tried to give her the bottle. He lifted her to his chest to burp her, and she fell out of his hands.
The boy told the baby's mother he was sorry, Curtis said.
At that point in the videotape, the police told her that this story didn't match the injuries. The video shows her pleading with her son to tell the police the truth, that he wouldn't be allowed to go home until he did.
He tells her he wiped the baby's blood with a blanket, and that he accidentally hit her with his elbow while trying to pick her up off the floor.
Just before midnight on the videotape, when it appeared the boy was about to talk, the judge stopped the tape.
"I find this to be inherently unfair," the judge said. "This child is so scared . . . literally in a corner. His mother is pressuring him. How many times does the kid say he doesn't want to talk?"
With that, the judge struck the entire third interview from the record. None of it will factor into the decision he will make this week.
The trial continues today.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 310-2081.