TAMPA — An eyewitness saw 2-year-old Makaila Thompson die of a torn heart on Sept. 5, 2008. He told Nana, his grandmother, how it happened. Afterward, he and his grandmother went into hiding. They moved from apartment to apartment. He woke up at night screaming.
The witness was Makaila's 4-year-old brother, Keyondre. He was with Makaila that night, in the care of a six-time convicted felon, their mother's 6-foot-3, 200-pound boyfriend, Robert Bradwell.
"He stepped on Makaila," Keyondre told his grandmother, Barbara Thompson. She said the little boy tried to save his sister. "Keyondre said, 'I told him to stop,' " she said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times.
The prosecutors know his story and believe him. But they couldn't put a little boy on the stand.
All this week, a jury has been hearing testimony in the trial of Bradwell, who is charged with aggravated child abuse and first-degree felony murder. He has pleaded innocent. The jury was unable to reach a verdict after deliberating 51/2 hours Thursday. They will resume deliberations this morning in Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente's court.
Keyondre, now 6, is too young to be considered legally competent to testify, said the prosecutor in the case, Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon. He said he couldn't let the 63-year-old grandmother testify to what Keyondre told her, either. That would be inadmissible hearsay.
Instead, the jury has heard from Robert Bradwell's attorneys another explanation for Makaila's fatal injuries: Keyondre could have done it. Keyondre could have jumped on his sister's chest during rough play.
During trial, a medical examiner testified that Makaila's injuries — which included a torn heart, a torn major vein to the heart, and a bleeding liver — were consistent with injuries from a beating by an adult. Hillsborough County Assistant Medical Examiner Jacqueline Lee said the injuries conceivably could have been caused by a child, if the child were large and jumping from a "really, really, really high bed."
Four-year-old Keyondre weighed 35 pounds.
During closing arguments Thursday, Bradwell's public defender, Theda James, continued to press the theory of Keyondre accidentally killing his sister.
She rested her case without calling a single witness.
Makaila's injuries were discovered just past midnight on Sept. 6, 2008, when Bradwell walked into the emergency room at University Community Hospital on Fletcher Avenue, carrying Makaila in his arms. She wasn't breathing. She was cold to the touch.
He told nurses she had fallen in the shower. But a detective noted she wore a diaper filled with dirt and leaves, and her hands and feet were soiled.
Bradwell wasn't arrested that night. He lived with Makaila's mother, Monique Thompson, for another month, until a forensics investigation was completed and Hillsborough sheriff's deputies thought they had enough evidence to arrest him.
During that month, Keyondre lived with his grandmother, Barbara Thompson. The state gave her custody of the boy and another sister, Keymonte, then 6. Keymonte had been with her grandmother on the night of Makaila's death and had seen nothing.
While Bradwell was free, Thompson said she moved the children from apartment to apartment, telling no one where they lived. She said state child protection officers told her to have no contact with her daughter.
"We were in hiding," Barbara Thompson said. "Keyondre was terrified of Robert finding us. I had to keep telling him, 'He's not going to come here.' "
She said the boy refused to be left alone in a room.
She had not seen Bradwell until this week when she came to court. She said she couldn't look at his face, only the back of his head. She was still afraid of him.
Keyondre again lives with his mother. He doesn't talk about Makaila's death anymore. He sometimes talks about her favorite song, which his Nana plays for him in the car.
It's an Alicia Keys song. At age 2, Makaila had it memorized. The song is No One.
You and me together
Through the days and nights.
I don't worry 'cause
Everything's gonna be all right.