Couple seeks to suppress evidence
Mother, boyfriend charged in child’s beating death
NORRISTOWN » Prosecutors want a jury to hear remarks a 4-year-old boy made to relatives regarding the physical abuse he suffered allegedly at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend in the months leading up to his death in their Abington home.
Tahjir Smith, according to court papers, allegedly told relatives that his mother Lisa Smith, 20, “beat him” when he urinated on himself and that Smith’s boyfriend, Keiff King, 26, “beat him up” and put him in a shed and “put a ‘welp’ on him.” Relatives, prosecutors alleged, told investigators they observed visible injuries on Tahjir, such as “black eyes, burn marks, lumps and welts,” and that on at least two occasions they took physical custody of Tahjir because they were concerned for the child.
Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Ed-
ward F. McCann Jr. and coprosecutor Lauren Heron argued to a judge the fact relatives took physical custody of Tahjir from Smith and King at times is “highly probative” evidence that the couple was endangering Tahjir and that they knew they were harming him. Additionally, prosecutors argued, Tahjir’s alleged statements are “probative of his fear.”
“It is highly probative evidence of the endangerment charge,” Heron argued at a pretrial hearing before Judge Risa Vetri Ferman, who must decide if a jury will hear the alleged statements of Tahjir and those of the relatives he allegedly confided in.
But defense lawyer Carrie L. Allman, who represents Smith, argued the statements of Tahjir and family and friends are “hearsay” and should not be heard by a jury.
“I don’t believe any of these are admissible,” Allman argued.
Allman also is attempting to keep a jury from hearing Smith’s alleged incriminating statement to detectives, arguing it was coerced and not voluntary. Prosecutors argued Smith’s statement to detectives was obtained properly and was voluntarily provided by Smith.
Ferman took the pretrial matters under advisement and will rule at a later date.
Smith and King, each of the 1800 block of Lukens Avenue in the Willow Grove section of Abington, face charges of first- and thirddegree murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, conspiracy and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with Tahjir’s Jan. 22 death.
Tahjir was pronounced dead at a local hospital following a day of punishment over spilling his cereal, authorities alleged.
An autopsy determined Tahjir died from multiple blunt and thermal injuries and shock, according to a criminal complaint filed by county Detective Gregory Henry and Abington Detective Donald Lindenmuth.
Ferman scheduled the joint jury trial for Smith and King for June 17, 2019. If convicted of first-degree murder Smith and King, who is represented by defense lawyer Jeremy-Evan Alva, would face life imprisonment. A conviction of third-degree murder carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years in prison.
Both are being held without bail at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility while awaiting trial. As they were led from the courtroom after their pretrial hearings, Smith and King did not respond to a reporter’s questions.
An investigation began about 6:09 p.m. Jan. 22 when Smith called 911 and reported her son was having an asthma attack. Emergency personnel met Smith and the child on Columbia Avenue and observed the child was limp and determined he was deceased.
Smith initially told police she and Tahjir had just gotten off a bus from Philadelphia when she noticed the child was gasping for air, according to court documents. But detectives determined Smith and the child had been at their Lukens Avenue home the entire day, according to testimony.
Tahjir was pronounced dead at an Abington hospital and investigators observed “pattern imprints, consistent with a shoe tread on the child’s buttocks and what appeared to be a burn on the child’s shoulder area,” according to the arrest affidavit.
In statements to detectives Smith and King each admitted they took part in disciplining Tahjir while confronting him about spilling his cereal on Jan. 22.
The boy was forced to maintain a pushup position, struck in the back of the head, beaten with a sandal on his bare buttocks and placed under hot water in a shower, detectives alleged. Smith allegedly told investigators that following the shower Tahjir appeared unresponsive and that later she observed the little boy’s eyes roll back into his head and his lips to be “moving weird,” according to the arrest affidavit.