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Defense points at mother in child's death

Prosecutors say Walter Morris beat the 2-year-old as his parents watched during a wrestling broadcast.

Walter Morris is on trial this week in the fatal beating of 2-year-old Dustin Gee.

But it was clear as testimony began Thursday in the first-degree murder trial that defense attorneys want to put a second person on trial for the crime, the person they say really killed the boy _ his mother, Kimberly S. Gee.

"Dustin was treated like a piece of dirt by his mother," said Assistant Public Defender Chris Helinger as she recounted a harrowing history of abuse the boy suffered at the hands of his mother.

The mother abused the child from nearly the day of his birth, Helinger said. His body was covered with bruises she inflicted; his development was slowed because Mrs. Gee strapped him into a car seat for hours at a time so she would be unbothered as she watched her daily soaps, she said.

Mrs. Gee didn't wash the child or change his diapers, the lawyer said.

Someone who witnessed some of the abuse told social workers, "If you don't do something, she's going to kill her child," Helinger said.

Prosecutors Tim Hessinger and Kendall Davidson don't dispute that history of abuse, even acknowledging that Mrs. Gee also abused her son the day he died.

Morris, 28, of Kenneth City inflicted the fatal injuries on the child Dec. 15, 1997, prosecutors said. His abuse of Dustin came hours after the boy was struck by his mother. The boy showed no ill effects of the slap she gave him.

But about 8 p.m., as Morris watched professional wrestling with his girlfriend, Mrs. Gee and her husband, Timothy Gee, Dustin became cranky. Prosecutors say Morris became annoyed.

Morris, who was 6 feet 1, 260 pounds, shook the boy, threw him to the floor and punched him repeatedly in the head and stomach and poured hot sauce in his mouth as his parents watched, prosecutors say.

Dustin went limp and quickly went into convulsions. He suffered a swollen brain and died at Bayfront Medical Center two days later.

Mrs. Gee, who may testify against Morris next week, has separately been charged with aggravated child abuse for failing to protect her child from Morris.

Mrs. Gee has told authorities that she should have stopped Morris. But she said she feared for her own life.

Morris and his fiance were living with the Gees, who had been living in Florida about six weeks when their child died. They had lived in Dodge City, Kan.

Helinger said it doesn't make sense that Morris killed the child. His fiance's child, whom he thought was his own baby, lived in the same house, yet Helinger said that 1-year-old boy showed no signs of abuse by Morris.

Morris only recently learned that the boy was not actually his own, Helinger said.

"His child didn't have a mark on him, didn't have a bruise," she said. "He loved his child."

But prosecutors said that Morris made damaging admissions to investigators shortly after the boy was hospitalized. Morris also lied by telling them the boy had been injured in a car crash, the prosecution said.

Morris faces the death penalty in a trial that may prove to be one of the longest and most complex in recent Pinellas history. It could last more than a month, with 110 potential witnesses listed.

Jury selection alone took three days, mostly because many people couldn't serve on such a long trial.

Testimony resumes today.