Newall: A particularly deadly week for Philly children. Why justice might be elusive.

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The man hired to dispose of the two-year old’s body thought it best to capture the experience on Facebook Live.

He was being paid $1000 for the crime, and to his viewers he complained the price was too low.

Meanwhile, the caretakers of a four-year-old treated the child’s third-degree burns with dollar-store cream. The boy’s father had left him in the care of an uncle, who had allegedly punched him in the belly and forced him into a scalding tub. Punishment for wetting his pants.

Then, there was the father who carried the body of 3-month-old son into the emergency room of St. Christopher’s Hospital.

“I don’t know what happened to him,” the man said. The child suffered from massive head trauma.

The detectives and prosecutors whose job it is in this city to seek justice for thrown-away children deal in the grimmest benchmarks. In March they reached one: the deadliest week for children in Philadelphia any of them could remember.

Besides the Facebook case, the burned boy, and toddler beaten to death, two suspicious infant deaths came across their desks between March 19 and March 23. There wasn’t even time to dig into the case of the kindergarten student who came to school high on PCP. That would have to wait to the following week.

There is no easy explanation for the grim observation, just the unmerciful rhythms of a city where too many children are so completely uncared for. And when they are failed by so many people, it’s hard to assess blame to just one.

In Pennsylvania, justice for these children can be especially elusive. That is because of the challenges of these cases and the shortfalls of law. In neglect cases with multiple people involved, there is less chance that a child’s tormentors will face the punishment they deserve. It’s often hard to tell who to hold responsible. Especially with children living off the radar, those who have been shuffled from one caretaker to another. Those who have injuries that date back years. Those who can’t speak for themselves.

Frustrated prosecutors are left to charge what they can. And in Pennsylvania, a lot of times those charges don’t carry much prison time.

Consider the recent crimes. 

The two-year-old whose death became a disgusting Facebook event was named Azim Jones-Fearon. On Valentine’s Day, his mother sent him live with her girlfriend, Jedayah Nesmith, police said. He was an unwanted present. One night in March, authorities said, Nesmith stepped outside to smoke powerful synthetic marijuana. She came back to find Azim foaming at the mouth. So, she left. No one went back, police said. Not for three weeks.

Not until Nesmith offered a grand to Tobias Vanburen to get rid of the body, police said. He filmed it, he later told police, because wanted to expose Nesmith and show he didn’t kill the child.

Azim’s decomposed body had broken bones likely acquired over a short lifetime. The medical examiner is still trying to determine a cause of death. Nesmith has been charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a count that could carry little more than probation. The investigation continues. The 35th police district is planning a vigil for Monday at 7101 North 15th Street, on the block where he died. 

Clinton Sumpter, who allegedly burned his nephew in the scalding tub, has been charged with aggravated assault. And so has the child’s father, Lucius Smith. He said he couldn’t bring the child to the hospital because he “was on the run from DHS,” police said. But he can always argue that he was not there when the boy was hurt.

Police say, Javine Barratt, who carried his dying namesake into St. Christopher’s Hospital, has been charged with murder. Instead of neglect, he struck a fatal blow.

Remember Ethan Okula, the North Philadelphia 10-year-old I wrote about in July? He died from a stomach blockage after his foster mother, a caretaker and a school nurse all failed to get him help. Prosecutors are still weighing whether anyone can be charged in his death.

Five years ago, I covered a case where a mother neglected her three children so badly their bodies atrophied into the shape of their strollers. They had never learned to walk or speak and communicated in grunts and wails. The mother got 3 to 6 years. The grandmother, who also lived in the home, received house arrest.

This is not just a Philadelphia problem. State Rep. Rob Kauffman, a Republican from Franklin County, has a bill before the House Judiciary Committee that would regrade endangering the welfare of children offenses to felonies that carry longer prison sentences. Hurt a child under six, and that would be a first-degree felony. The bill has support and Kauffman told me he hopes to send it to the governor’s desk before the end of the year. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is pushing hard for it.

They want justice for the kids so many failed.

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