The Brevard medical examiner on Monday described to a Brevard County court in brutal detail the injuries he said were found on 4-year-old Joy King-Castro that led to charges of first-degree murder against her Titusville foster mom.
Dr. Sajid Qaiser said he counted at least 11 isolated bruises, or contusions, on Joy's head, seven on her face, three on her torso and at least six on other parts of her body. He found burst blood vessels in her eyes and a mark around her neck that Qaiser said was consistent with strangulation made by “either a belt or a piece of cloth or a piece of string or a rope."
Lakeisha Mitchell, 42, faces multiple charges, including first-degree murder in the death of Joy who was in her care from June 7 to Aug. 23. Mitchell has pleaded not guilty. Mitchell's lawyer has focused on Joy's behavioral issues, which Mitchell told police included self-harm.
Qaiser's testimony came during the second part of Mitchell's bond hearing at the Moore Justice Center in Viera before Judge Samuel Bookhardt III.
Jason Wandner, Mitchell’s attorney, argued that Joy had suffered recurrent vomiting and multiple concussions prior to her death and questioned whether that could have contributed to her death or been indicative of a health issue that contributed to or led to her death.
Qaiser said no, saying her injuries were all recent.
“It’s a very acute, very recent event,” he said.
Wandner asked if Joy's injuries could have been caused by hitting her head repeatedly against a wall. Qaiser said even if Joy self-injured, it would be irrelevant. “(The injury) would be very small, very trivial,” he said.
Wandner also questioned why it had taken Qaiser a little more than three months to prepare an autopsy report and why there wasn't a single cause of death. Qaiser said it takes longer in “complicated” cases. This is currently still a draft report, Qaiser said, noting, however, that he didn't anticipate anything that would rule out his core findings.
Qaiser said the injuries to Joy, which also included a patterned mark that made a "dent" into Joy's skin on her neck, appeared to have been made in the hours after Mitchell picked Joy up from daycare on Aug. 23.
Prosecutor Julia Lynch showed images of a belt found on Mitchell's kitchen floor and asked if it was possible that was used on Joy. Qaisar said yes.
“The child died of multiple trauma and from strangulation,” Lynch said. “You have a child that is being argued by the defense that this is somehow self-inflicted. What this was is a 4-year-old girl that of all things couldn’t get her shoes on fast enough.”
“Having a meltdown does not equate to the numerous injuries that were found on the child,” Lynch said.
Mitchell's lawyer asked Titusville detective Parker Landis, who took the stand Monday afternoon, if there was any fingerprint or DNA evidence found to confirm Joy had been strangled. Landis said no.
Joy had only been in Mitchell's care for 11 weeks; Mitchell's home was at least the fifth Joy had been placed in since January when she was removed from her mother's care amid Department of Children and Families concerns over her mother's boyfriend.
Joy came to live with Mitchell in June, two months after two other foster children were removed from Mitchell's home amid allegations of abuse. Those children were returned to their biological mom. Mitchell was never charged. The way Joy's case was handled caused her case manager to resign this fall and send a whistleblower letter to the state agency.
Mitchell's exasperation with Joy became apparent in reports by a behavior analyst who held sessions with Joy and talked to Mitchell. The analyst's interview with police was released to FLORIDA TODAY under a public records request.
At Monday's hearing, the prosecutor showed a recording of a phone call between Mitchell and her mother following the October bond hearing discussing evidence brought up then, specifically a video of Mitchell telling Joy to die.
Mitchell said Joy was going to put her face into a fan and that made her angry, causing her to tell Joy to die. After that, Mitchell told her mom that Mitchell “cried like a baby."
Wandner argued that this phone call was evidence of Joy’s self-injurious behavior and “significant behavior problems.”
“This evidence contextualizes why she may have gotten upset in that situation,” Wandner said.
“This child had been bounced out of four different homes - tossed out, which is the word used by her mom," Wandner said. "No one could handle her.”
On Aug. 23, Mitchell called 911 about 5:40 p.m. to report that she’d left her foster daughter for about 30 seconds in a bathtub and returned to find Joy submerged and unresponsive. Joy had been having a tantrum, pretending she couldn’t walk and throwing herself on the ground — something she’d done before, Mitchell told police. So Mitchell put her, fully clothed, in a few inches of water to try to snap her out of it. It was a technique Mitchell said she’d been advised to do by Angela Potucek, a behavior analyst. During an interview with a Titusville detective, Potucek denied having ever instructed Mitchell to do this.
Child dies in foster care: Foster child dead after found unconscious in bathtub; caregiver may face more charges, police say
No evidence of drowning was found.
Qaiser said the cause of death was blunt force bodily injuries with strangulation. “Everywhere, there were hemorrhages,” he said.
Lynch read a statement from Joy's mom, Nakesha King, saying was working to reunify with her other three children.
“Mitchell knew exactly what she was doing,” King said in a letter Lynch read. “This was not a mistake.”
Mitchell's lawyer asked for a GPS monitor, a reasonable bond “somewhere around $75,000” and other steps like requiring Mitchell to live with her mother.
The judge said he would issue an order later this week.
Finch Walker is a Breaking News Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Walker at 321-290-4744 or email@example.com. Twitter: @_finchwalker
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Brevard medical examiner testifies to 4-year-old foster girl's injuries