Chekayla Dampier is accused of murdering her newborn son by holding him under a spout of blistering 142-degree water as a punishment for crying. At the time, she was 18, a single, unemployed mother, bouncing from house to house and in love with a married man. Authorities have described the baby's death as one of the most cruel cases of child abuse seen in Pasco County. Dampier, who is now 19 and has been at the Pasco jail since her arrest last April, agreed last week to an interview with the Times. It is the first time she's spoken publicly about what happened to her son. "Did you love him?" the Times asked.
"Yes," she said in the basement of the jail, her wrists and legs shackled. Her face and eyes were blank. She often shut down when asked questions about her son's injuries, her head lowered, silent.
Her son, Emilio Bautista, was 7 weeks old when it happened, the hot water pouring over his head, face, lips, ears, chest and back. His delicate skin bubbled and was torn off when nurses tried to remove his clothes, which they told investigators were soiled. The diaper he wore was "old and falling apart," a report states. He had burns inside his mouth and his eyes were fused shut, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Authorities said Dampier waited hours before having a friend take her and Emilio to the hospital. She said she doesn't know why she never called an ambulance.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office said Dampier confessed to hurting Emilio on purpose and it has video of her reenacting the crime of "placing the infant's head directly under the spout and turning on the hot water knob." The report says Dampier ran the water for several minutes and that "her son was crying during the entire incident."
But Dampier said Emilio's injuries were a mistake.
"Are you saying, were you giving him a bath and it was an accident?" the Times asked.
"So it had nothing to do with him crying or being fussy?" the Times said.
"No," Dampier said.
"You were just giving him a bath?"
"There is a Sheriff's Office report that says that you told them that he was crying and you were upset with him crying so you held him under the water until he screamed and his skin started to bubble," the Times said.
Dampier shook her head.
"No," she said.
"No, that's not true?" the Times asked.
"No," Dampier said.
But she fell silent when questioned about what happened.
"I just hate talking about it," she finally said softly.
She told the Times she didn't think Emilio's injuries were serious until she got to the hospital. She said she didn't know how hot the water was.
Emilio died 12 days after the incident. The medical examiner said the baby had scalding burns covering 21 percent of his body. Doctors also found an old fracture on his right hand and blunt force trauma to his liver.
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When questioned, Dampier told detectives a few days before the fatal injury, she "hit the victim in the stomach and chest several times, until he vomited" because "he was crying and bloated," a report states.
"No," Dampier said in jail. "I never put my hands on my baby."
The Department of Children and Families said it received an abuse hotline call about Dampier days before the deadly incident, alleging the baby was seen with bruises and cigarette burns on his body, but DCF couldn't track down Dampier or the baby. Her relatives and friends didn't know where she was, a report states. After Emilio's death, DCF heard Dampier and her boyfriend left the infant in a car for 20 minutes while they were inside a bank. Video surveillance showed the two inside the bank without a baby, the report states, supporting the allegation of neglect.
Dampier was raised in Oldsmar by her great-aunt, Elethea Dampier, who said Dampier's mother abused her as a toddler — gave her a broken arm, punched her in the face.
She said she tried to make Dampier whole, but she was troubled. At 8, she said, Dampier was lying and stealing, so she brought her to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to be scared straight. A deputy talked with her, but it did no good, Elethea Dampier said. She was a constant runaway and her first arrest was at 11, with nearly a dozen more to come before her arrest last year.
Elethea Dampier, 48, said her great-niece always adamantly denied stealing and other crimes she was accused of, even when there was unequivocal proof. After the baby was born, Elethea Dampier said, she tried to get her headstrong teen to either live with her or to give her the baby.
"She always wanted to be on her own," she said.
Elethea Dampier hasn't questioned Dampier about Emilio. She said the only time she's spoken with the young woman since her arrest was last week, when Dampier placed a 30-second call from jail to wish her a happy birthday.
Elethea Dampier said her great-niece knew how to take care of babies, as she had cared for many cousins. She said Dampier was obsessed about the man she claimed to be the father of the baby, Timoteo Jose Bautista-Olguin, now 24, who had a pregnant wife and a toddler when Emilio was born.
But Dampier told the Times she, Bautista-Olguin and their baby were a family unit, and they had just moved into a mobile home with a friend at 7138 Johnson Road in Port Richey days before Emilio was hurt. She said she sometimes felt overwhelmed with motherhood, but it was okay.
"I felt happy," Dampier said. "I felt like everything was perfect."
Elethea Dampier said she heard Bautista-Olguin planned to get back together with his pregnant wife, which might have ignited the terrible tragedy.
"I don't think it was an accident," she said. "I think it was done out of anger."
Dampier's neighbor Rebecca Dyer said the wife, Kimberlee Johnson, 32, moved into the mobile home the day after Dampier was arrested. Two months later, on June 4, when Johnson was four months pregnant, Bautista-Olguin was arrested on charges he dragged his wife into the street by her hair and beat her. He was released from the Pasco jail Feb. 13 to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Pasco Sheriff's Office said he was being held at an immigration facility in Miami.
At the Pasco jail on last week, Dampier said she and Bautista-Olguin were still together.
"We write each other," she said.
Dampier is charged with first-degree murder and plans to take her case to trial. Her trial date has not been yet.
She said she keeps to herself inside jail, writing poetry to her dead son and spending her days remembering what he looked like, as she doesn't have a photo of him in her cell. She said her son was born with dark hair and had dimples and pink lips. She said she feels like she belongs in jail, even though she says what happened was a mistake.
"He was a good baby," she said.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.