For 45 minutes, a trauma team from Caritas Carney Hospital in Dorchester attempted to resuscitate Dontel Jeffers, pushing a breathing tube down his throat, injecting him with adrenaline, and performing CPR, according to testimony given yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court by the doctor and nurses who worked on the 4-year-old boy.
After calling an end to the frantic attempt on March 6, 2005, emergency physician Glen Sickorez stepped out of the trauma room, walked over to the boy's foster mother, Corinne Stephen, and told her that Jeffers was dead. "I believe she was quite distraught," said Sickorez, sitting in the witness stand. "Her first statement was, 'Why does something like this happen to me?' "
Stephen, who had custody of Jeffers for only 10 days, is facing second-degree murder charges in connection with the toddler's death. Yesterday, on the second day of the trial, she sat stoically next to her lawyer, John Palmer, while members of the trauma team that worked on Jeffers recounted what happened after she walked through the emergency entrance with the lifeless boy.
Nurse David Lincoln said Jeffers's arms and legs were cold, his heart wasn't beating, and his abdomen was "grossly distended, large, rock-hard." Lincoln said he spoke with Stephen twice outside the trauma room.
In one of those conversations, he said, Stephen recounted the moments before she came to the hospital. "She said she had plans to go shopping for food, and that he [Jeffers] didn't seem right in a way, but he was communicative. She gave him a bath, clothed him, and placed him in a car seat. She said she looked in her rearview mirror and he was unresponsive."
Lincoln, Sickorez, and several other members of the trauma team said they also noticed bruises on Jeffers's arms and legs, that he had a black, swollen left eye, and that his hands were swollen. "His right pupil was fixed, no reaction, and I could not check the left because that eye was swollen shut," Lincoln said.
Sickorez said, "I asked her about the bruises on his arms and legs, and she said that he was hyperactive." Stephen had previously told authorities that the night before Jeffers was taken to the hospital, he had been jumping on his bed and had fallen, hitting his head on a radiator.
An autopsy revealed that Jeffers died of severe internal injuries and that it is likely he endured much pain. The autopsy also said Jeffers's wrists had marks from cord or rope, and that swelling in the boy's hands may have resulted from "tight and painful ligatures" left in place for at least 45 minutes. It also showed that the boy's forehead had fingernail gouges.
Prosecutor David Deakin said in his opening statements on Tuesday that the prosecution's case would be based on circumstantial evidence, and that there would be no eyewitness to tell what happened to Jeffers. He added that Stephen, as the sole caregiver, could have saved the boy's life but chose not to.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle told jurors that prosecutors do not have to prove Stephen actually delivered the blows that harmed Jeffers.
Instead, she told them they must be convinced that Stephen knew her actions would have caused the boy's death.
Palmer described Stephen as a career foster mother who had safely cared for other children and had a good reputation with Mentor Network Inc., the private child welfare agency where she worked.