WATERLOO — Hunched in a chair and alternately lying on the ground for the next two hours, Walter Cordell Williams mumbled most of his answers to Waterloo Police Officer John Koontz’s questions in the early morning hours of July 9, 2017.
Williams, who is on trial for murder in the death of 4-year-old Jaheem Harris, told Koontz in the video that Jaheem had been in bed when he vomited, and Williams cleaned up the bedding while Jaheem went back to sleep on the floor. Later, Williams put Jaheem in a bathtub, leaving him in the water while he made a bottle for another child he was caring for at the time.
But as Koontz kept pushing Williams on why Jaheem was dry and clothed when paramedics arrived at the home, despite Williams’ contention he found Jaheem unresponsive in the bathtub, Williams stayed firm.
“Some of the things you’re saying don’t make sense,” Koontz told Williams.
“It’s the truth; I put him in the tub and he was fine,” Williams said. Later, he repeated, “He was alive and well when I put him in the tub.”
Jurors continued to hear the state’s testimony Monday in Black Hawk County district court, including DNA evidence, phone records, video from the interview room and autopsy results — photos which brought some family members in the audience to tears.
Jonathan Thompson, deputy chief medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Jaheem, described photos shown by Black Hawk County Attorney Brian Williams of bleeding in several of Jaheem’s organs as well as patterns of bruising, cluster bruises and large bruises over much of his body.
Thompson noted it was his opinion the preschooler died of blunt force trauma injuries to his chest and abdomen, and said the manner of death was determined to be homicide.
“He had a number of bruises which were concerning to me because they were in areas where accidental bruising should not be,” Thompson said. “It was concerning to me that this was some type of abuse case.”
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Bruises were documented on Jaheem’s forehead, right and left shoulders, right and left arms, right elbow, right and left hands, his chest, right and left clavicles, both buttocks, right and left thighs, right and left legs and right knee. Some bruises indicated an object struck Jaheem; others appeared to show he was repeatedly hit in the same area.
“To me, this goes beyond accidental,” Thompson said.
Defense attorney Matthew Hoffey asked Thompson if drowning could be ruled out, and Thompson said it could not, because drowning was “a difficult diagnosis” to make.
“In this case, I didn’t call it drowning because he had injuries of the chest and abdomen, and I didn’t get a history that Jaheem was ever under water,” he said, saying paramedics at the scene noted Jaheem was dry and clothed when he was found.
Hoffey also asked if it was possible Jaheem got his fatal internal injuries earlier and did not show symptoms until he vomited that night. Thompson said it was.
“Hypothetically, let’s say a four-year-old child with these internal injuries is placed in a tub. Would it be reasonable for a caretaker to believe that child had drowned?” Hoffey asked.
“Yes,” Thompson said.
Williams’ trial continues this morning.