When 4-year-old Tyrone Fenner Jr. showed up at an emergency room last year, unconscious and with severe head trauma, doctors said they immediately became suspicious of his stepfather's explanation that the boy had fallen off the toilet.
The Austin and Bryan-College Station physicians were among the first to testify in the trial of Timothy Dewayne Lewis, 27, whose capital murder trial began Tuesday. Lewis is accused of beating the boy to death.
Tyrone was taken off life support in July 2004, a little more than two weeks after he was airlifted to Brackenridge Hospital in Austin and put in the pediatric critical care unit. Among the injuries noted by doctors were retinal hemorrhaging, brain swelling, enough blood accumulation inside his skull to cause his brain to shift position, two fractured bones and damage to his kidneys and spleen.
Jurors also viewed photos Tuesday of bruising on the boy's abdomen and thighs - taken as he lay unconscious, naked and surrounded by tubes at St. Joseph Regional Health Center in Bryan.
One after another, emergency responders who arrived at Lewis' College Station apartment in June 2004 took the witness stand, describing the defendant that day as agitated, irrational, using foul language and getting in their way as he yelled for the boy to wake up.
His behavior was so alarming that the emergency responders soon decided it was necessary to pick up the boy without a backboard so they could leave the house as quickly as possible - for their own safety as well as the patient's, several said.
"We wanted to get out of there," explained Clint Anderson, a paramedic with the College Station Fire Department.
Later on, as family members waited at the hospital, Lewis seemed to be more concerned with telling his side of the story than he did with the boy's well-being, one police officer said. In fact, the defendant continually tried to explain away the injuries, prosecutors Jarvis Parsons and Shane Phelps added as they addressed the jury during opening statements.
Defense attorney David Barron responded during his own opening statement that "yes, Timothy Lewis was extremely upset and angry shortly after this happened.
"He's not accused in this case of using bad language."
Barron asked the jury to look closely at the testimony of Virginia Lewis, the boy's mother. He said the testimony, which has yet to take place, will be "probably the most important evidence you will hear in this case."
Both Timothy Lewis and Virginia Lewis originally backed up the story that the child was fine until falling off a toilet, police have said. Several days after the incident, however, Virginia Lewis changed her story - instead pointing a finger at her husband.
According to the testimony of Brackenridge physician George Edwards, it was clear from the outset that the boy faced life-threatening injuries.
"My thought when I first saw him was, if he did survive, he was likely to have permanent consequences and disabilities from the injury," Edwards testified. "But I think we all knew the likelihood of survival was small."
The boy's head injuries were consistent with severe trauma that might be expected from a car accident or a fall from a high building, he said. Edwards agreed with a local emergency room doctor that they were not the result of falling off a toilet.
It also seems highly unlikely that the boy could have received such life-threatening injuries much earlier than when police were called, he added, explaining that such trauma would have made it impossible to walk, eat and climb stairs.
"I was convinced early on and remain convinced that non-accidental trauma was the cause of this child's injuries," he said.
During opening statements, prosecutors described the boy, known by the nickname "T," as a typical 4-year-old who liked going to McDonald's and getting up early on Saturdays to watch cartoons.
"Who would rip the life out of a 4-year-old boy?" Parsons asked the jurors. "[It was] the one person who's supposed to protect him. The one person who's supposed to guide Tyrone through his life."
Prosecutors are expected to continue calling witnesses at 9 a.m. Wednesday when the trial continues in the 85th District Courtroom at the Brazos County Courthouse.
• Craig Kapitan's e-mail address is email@example.com.