War­rants: In­juries not an ac­ci­dent

Of­fi­cials: Tod­dler who died had se­vere burns, trauma to body parts.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - METRO - By Alexis Stevens astevens@ajc.com

For the first year of her life, foster par­ents cared for lit­tle Aleigha Lee. When she was re­united with her own par­ents, she sur­vived only months past her sec­ond birth­day.

Though her par­ents told in­ves­ti­ga­tors var­i­ous ac­counts of how the young girl was in­jured, Aleigha’s head-to-toe in­juries were too se­vere to have been ac­ci­den­tal, ar­rest war­rants state. Her leg was burned so se­verely, it was in a state of necro­sis, mean­ing the cells and tis­sues were dy­ing, ac­cord­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

A Coweta County court pro­gram re­ported the par­ents had cleaned up their act after com­plet­ing an 18-month fam­ily court pro­gram. In 2016, Aleigha’s par­ents, Daniel Len­wood Lee and Eliz­a­beth Lynn Lee, tem­po­rar­ily lost cus­tody of their chil­dren be­cause they were ad­dicted to metham­phetamine and liv­ing in a van. The cou­ple en­rolled in the fam­ily court pro­gram, and once it was com­pleted, the fam­ily was re­united in Au­gust 2017. The Lees were clean from drugs, had a place to live and jobs, and were fea­tured in a story by The New­nan Times-Her­ald.

But on Sun­day, Aleigha was found un­re­spon­sive in the fam- ily’s Senoia home. In a fran­tic phone call to 911, Daniel Lee said his daugh­ter was un­re­spon­sive.

“We woke up and she’s barely breath­ing,” Lee said dur­ing the call, ob­tained by The At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion. “She’s like re­ally white. Please hurry!”

It was too late for Aleigha, who died after be­ing taken to Pied­mont New­nan Hospi­tal. There, in­ves­ti­ga­tors first saw the child’s in­juries, which cov­ered most of her body. Her par­ents were ar­rested, and on Fri­day both re­mained in the Coweta jail, where they are be­ing held with­out bond.

Aleigha was one of six Lee chil­dren. The other five re­mained in pro­tec­tive cus­tody Fri­day.

Cit­ing the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Aleigha’s death, the state De­part­ment of Fam­ily and Chil­dren Ser­vices and the Coweta

ju­ve­nile court judge de­clined to com­ment on the case. The pros­e­cu­tor in the case did not re­turn a call seek­ing com­ment. But de­tails in the ar­rest war­rants in­di­cate hor­rific abuse, in­clud­ing se­vere burns and blunt force trauma.

“It was very ap­par­ent that (the child) en­dured dif­fer­ent in­juries from her head to her toes. Her ex­posed body re­vealed bruises in dif­fer­ent shapes, sizes and stages be­gin­ning from her head to her face, ribs, back, but­tocks, arms, legs, feet and toes,” the war­rants state. “... There were other in­juries which again were un­usual marks on her face, ears, chest and back.”

An au­topsy con­ducted by the GBI un­cov­ered addi- tional in­juries, ac­cord­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Aleigha’s body showed ev­i­dence of blunt force trauma to both the ab­domen, re­sult­ing in a lac­er­ated liver, and her mouth, the ar­rest war­rants state. Her brain was swollen, she was de­hy­drated and had an in­ter­nal vagi­nal lac­er­a­tion, the au­topsy showed. The child also had hand- prints on her but­tocks and rear back.

Eliz­a­beth Lee, 29, has been charged with felony mur­der and ag­gra­vated bat­tery, and Daniel Lee, 28, has been charged with child cru­elty in the sec­ond de­gree.

In an in­ter­view with dep- uties, Eliz­a­beth Lee said Aleigha had burned her leg her­self Oct. 24 by pulling a hair straight­ener from a bath­room counter. Lee said the child had been un­able to walk and had to be car­ried, but that she had been fol­low- ing a phar­ma­cist’s ad­vice and kept the wound ban­daged, her war­rant states. The mother told in­ves­ti­ga­tors she didn’t seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion be­cause the fam­ily didn’t have in­sur­ance, and she feared DFACS would take her chil­dren. Lee ad­mit­ted she had struck Aleigha after she found the child play­ing in a toi­let, the war­rant states.

Daniel Lee told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he knew the child had been burned, but his wife kept the wound cov­ered be­cause he “has a weak stom­ach,” his ar­rest war­rant states. Lee said he worked long hours dur­ing the week and hadn’t seen all of his daugh­ter’s in­juries.

Over the sum­mer, the cou­ple were cel­e­brated as a suc­cess story for the fam­ily court pro­gram. On Fri­day, the court re­ported there had been no in­di­ca­tion of child abuse while the Lees were par­tic­i­pat­ing in its pro­gram.

“The staff of the ac­count­abil­ity court pro­gram are dev­as­tated by this hor­rific tragedy,” Jen­nifer Bar­nett, ac­count­abil­ity court man­ager, said Fri­day.

are sad­dened by the loss of lit­tle Aleigha, who along with her sib­lings was re­turned to her par­ents’ home in Au­gust of 2017. In the un­der­ly­ing de­pen­dency case, there was never an is­sue of phys­i­cal abuse of the chil­dren.”

The court was no longer mon­i­tor­ing the Lee fam­ily, Bar­nett said.

“Mr. and Mrs. Lee suc­cess­fully com­pleted ev­ery as­pect of their case plan, which dis­solved any de­pen­dency that ex­isted at that time ... thus elim­i­nat­ing any ju­ris­dic­tion that the court had over the fam­ily.”

Daniel Len­wood Lee, 28, and Eliz­a­beth Lynn Lee, 29, are fac­ing charges in the death of Aleigha Lee, 2.

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