A jury of eight men and four women found a Lewisburg grandmother guilty of three counts of child abuse after a one-day trial in Marshall County Circuit Court Thursday.
The jury deliberated for about an hour before returning the guilty verdict on Kimberly Blossom Knois, 44, of Colburn Drive. Knois remains free on $25,000 bond, and is scheduled for a sentencing hearing March 18.
Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard presented testimony from the emergency room doctor and nurse who first reported the suspected abuse June 14. On that day, Knois took her grandson, now 4, to the Maury Regional Medical Center Emergency Room because she suspected he had ingested motor oil.
Dr. Douglas Shields, the doctor who was working in the emergency room that day, said he had "a very high index of suspicion that this child had been abused," when he saw the bruises on the boy's body.
"My red flag flew off the pole," Shields told the jury, when Knois said the boy's older sister, 5, had put the marks on the boy.
"(His sister) chokes him until he passes out; she hits him with a belt," was how Knois described the children's fights to nurse Amy Cummings.
April Tarpley, an investigator with the Department of Children's Services testified that she had investigated hundreds of cases in her two-and-a-half years with DCS. She said she examined both children in the Maury Regional E.R. and found no marks anywhere on the girl.
"Does that make sense if she was in altercations with her brother on a daily basis?" Barnard asked.
"No," Tarpley said.
In his final remarks to the jury, Barnard told them, "This is not about the state trying to interfere with someone trying to discipline a child. She had knowledge she was swinging a belt. You've seen the pictures of the bruises and there isn't any way (the girl) could have put those bruises on that child."
"You have a woman that lost it," Barnard told the jury. "She started swinging that 38-inch belt and didn't care where it hit. ... Conviction should rest easy on your conscience."
The defense sought to convince the jury that the sister was responsible for her brother's bruises. In his closing remarks, defense attorney Mark K. Green told the jury that there was no doubt Knois had spanked her grandchild, and no doubt that bruises were present when the E.R. staff saw him. Green maintained that the state had not proved when the bruising happened, or that the defendant had caused it.
"The state hasn't proven she knowingly committed child abuse against (the boy). If she was uncaring, she would have taken him home (after he supposedly drank the oil)," concluded Green.
The jury deliberated for about an hour before returning a verdict of guilty on all three counts -- the three occasions on June 14, when Knois admits to disciplining her grandson.
The first witness for the defense was Knois, herself. In answer to Green's questions, she explained how her grandchildren came to be living with her at the home of her in-laws. Knois' daughter and son-in-law, who live in Ohio, did not have a stable place to stay at the time, so they asked Knois if she could take the children for the summer. The pair arrived in Lewisburg in April 2008.
Knois said that both children, barely 11 months apart in age, had been diagnosed with lead poisoning and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and fought a lot. When she couldn't control them, Knois asked her daughter, Charlotte Black, what she did and Black told her she smacked them with a belt or a flyswatter, "so I resorted to that," Knois said.
"Did spanking work?" asked Green.
"It would settle them down enough so you could talk to them," replied Knois.
Green took Knois through a description of June 14 and the spankings she admitted administering to the boy that day, starting just after midnight when he was acting inappropriately with his sister in the bed the two shared with their grandmother. Bad behavior continued through the morning, as the boy messed up the kitchen, and then the bathroom and the bedroom.
Knois said she never hit the boy more than three licks at any one time, and never hit him intentionally anywhere but the buttocks, though she did say he slipped from her grasp at one time and was hit on the back instead.
She also said that the children had been in a fight the day before, during which the sister had chased her brother around the house, hitting him in the back with a belt.
Knois finally got the children into their car seats and drove to visit her husband. The boy had discovered how to release the entire seat by unfastening the seat belt. He was on the floor in the back of the car when he found a bottle of motor oil and unscrewed the cap. When she couldn't get a straight answer as to whether he had ingested any of the oil, Knois decided to go straight to the Maury Regional E.R. with both children.
Knois said she was "shocked" when she undressed the boy at the emergency room and saw the bruises on his back.
"I told (the doctor that his sister) done the bruising," she testified. "The kids fight all the time."
"(She) has more strength than I do," Knois added later.
The doctor clearly thought otherwise, and Child Protective Services and Lewisburg Police Department Det. Scott Braden were called. The children were removed from Knois' custody at the hospital.
The defense also called Ruth Maxwell, the foster mother who looked after the children from June until they went back to their mother in October. Maxwell, 73, confirmed that the children fought a lot, but said she didn't find them difficult to discipline.
Charlotte Black has had the two children back with her in Ohio since late October. She testified that the children fight from the moment they get up until they go to bed. She said they pull ears, bite, scratch, pinch, hit, and pull hair.
The sister, 5, is in kindergarten, but "not doing that good," and the boy, 4, is in pre-school. Both are getting help with anger management, and with their ADHD and learning disabilities.
"They loved each other, but they were very aggressive," said Evelyn Knois about her great-grandchildren. She testified she had seen the sister hit the brother with a shoehorn and with a belt. She also said she knew Kimberly had spanked the boy, but when asked if he had been "beaten," Evelyn Knois said firmly, "That would not have happened in my house."
"She's just a nice person all the way around," said Evelyn about her daughter-in-law.