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Son tells of games and pain

The last night of 2{-year-old Joshua Snow's life was filled with games.

But the games turned violent, leaving Joshua with brain trauma and several severe head injuries, jurors in the murder trial of Dennis Cox were told Wednesday.

"They were cruel games _ games that made Joshua cry, games that hurt him," Assistant State Attorney Linda Babb said in her opening statement.

Some of the evidence against Cox, the boyfriend of Joshua's mother, came from Cox's son, 7-year-old Jesse. The blond boy squirmed in his seat while describing how his father placed a block in the toddler's way, causing him to trip and hit his head on the couch.

Jesse also testified that he watched his father give Joshua a hard "butt-whooping" with a belt on his bare bottom, hitting him 10 times. And then his father called Joshua a name, he said.

The prosecutor pressed Jesse to say the name.

Jesse looked at the jurors and around the courtroom and hesitated. "You . . . m.f.," he said.

She asked if Cox had used the initials or the whole long word, motherf-----.

"He used the whole long word," the boy said.

Cox, 33, was taking care of Joshua, who had chicken pox and diarrhea the night of March 21, 1992, while Joshua's mother went to work.

Cox was angered when he had to clean up after Joshua. And when the boy took a bath, he knocked the child's head against the tub, Babb said.

Babb told jurors that Cox made Joshua stand in the corner. There, she said, he slapped the boy, hitting his head against the wall.

Besides tripping the child, Babb said, the games included grabbing the boy by his ankles and lifting him up, causing his head to strike the floor.

Assistant Public Defender Nora McClure told jurors that things aren't always as they seem and asked them to keep an open mind until they've heard all the evidence.

Jesse told McClure that his father swung Josh around by the ankles, playing the fun game "airplane," landing him on the couch. Joshua asked to do it again, he said.

The jury also heard how Cox was jealous of the attention the boy received from his mother.

Lisa Snow testified that Cox often told her that her son would grow up to be a "faggot" because of the hugs and kisses she gave the boy.

In an effort to keep them apart, she said, Cox designated an "adult couch" and a "kid's couch."

"He didn't like us being close at all," she said.

Cox had three boys and they all lived with Cox, Ms. Snow and Joshua in a one-bedroom cottage at 1743{ Second Ave N in St. Petersburg.

Ms. Snow testified that most of the time Cox treated her son "like the rest of the kids."

Jesse testified that before Ms. Snow returned from work that night, his father breathed into Joshua's mouth and pushed his stomach _ something Jesse said he saw on Rescue 911.

Cox did it, Jesse said, "because he didn't want Lisa Snow to think (Josh) was dead."

When Ms. Snow returned from work about 8:30 p.m., the lights were off and Cox, Joshua and Jesse were in front of the TV. She sat down and noticed Joshua was making funny noises.

"At first I thought he was dreaming and it was cute," she said.

He kept making noises so she checked him. Cox turned on the light, and she noticed Joshua's eyes were open and he was limp and gasping for air.

They took him to St. Anthony's Hospital, and he later was rushed to All Children's Hospital, where doctors said he was clinically brain dead. He later was taken off life support.

Jesse, who did not recognize his father in court, almost did not testify because Circuit Judge Bonnie S. Newton was not sure he was competent and she was concerned about traumatizing him.

But after hearing the child discuss other events that occurred about the same time, she was convinced his memory was adequate and testifying did not appear to upset him.

The boy grew weary of testifying, yawning and rubbing his eyes, and gave some inconsistent and unclear statements, such as saying that Joshua was strange that night "like he was acting like a monster."