After a full day of testimony in a preliminary hearing in Brown County District Court Wednesday, a 28-year-old Hiawatha woman has been bound over for arraignment on charges of murder in the first degree.
Janice Summerford was originally charged with aiding and abetting murder in the second degree and aiding and abetting felony child abuse, along with obstruction, in connection with the March murder of 4-year-old Mekhi Boone.
Summerford was the live-in girlfriend of Lee Davis IV of Hiawatha, who was sentenced in July to almost 20 years for the beating death of Mekhi, who was his son. Originally charged with first degree murder in the death of Mekhi, Davis, who was 27 at the time of his arrest, later pled no contest to an amended charge of second-degree murder and felony child abuse. He was sentenced to a total of 234 months in prison on the charges.
Summerford was arrested on Tuesday, April 30 on the original charges after evidence revealed in the investigation cast doubt on Summerford’s whereabouts during the beating that led to Mekhi’s death.
Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, Brown County Attorney Kevin Hill filed an amended complaint against Summerford, charging her with six felony counts, including first degree murder, abuse of a child, obstructing apprehension or prosecution and three counts of interference with law enforcement.
Powerful testimony from Children’s Mercy doctors and Brown County Sheriff’s Investigator Randy Linck was just part of the day’s testimony. In videotaped testimony of Linck interviewing Summerford just hours after Mekhi’s death, it appeared the defendant was laughing. The final testimony of the day came shortly before 5 p.m. by Davis, who pointed the finger at his former girlfriend in Mekhi’s death.
According to Davis, Summerford had brought Mekhi upstairs to where Davis was on March 3, telling him about a dispute between the four-year-old and one of her children. He was allegedly made to stand against a wall and according to Davis, kept stepping away. Davis, who said he was on the other side of a partial wall at the time, said after the second time Mekhi stepped away he heard a “thud” and stepped around the wall to see his son convulsing and unconscious. Davis told the court that he stepped into a cold shower with his son to try and rouse him, but when that didn’t work he took him to the hospital. It was at the hospital that Davis was later arrested.
When cross-examined by defense witness William O’Keefe, Davis denied any knowledge of the multitude of bruises on Mekhi’s body prior to seeing him unclothed in the hospital and said he may have “slapped” his hand or spanked him only occasionally. He denied ever beating him, but told the court he pled no contest to second degree murder because of the guilt he felt at not being able to protect his son from Summerford.
In closing arguments, Hill painted a picture of a woman who felt hate for the 4-year-old victim, acknowledged beating him at times in text messages to Davis that were introduced as evidence and then covered up the crime of his murder.
Hill said her story has changed during several interviews. In one interview, she stated she was at a friend’s house the entire time during which the beating occurred, but later stated that was a lie. During one, she acknowledged being present for Mekhi’s death, but in three subsequent interviews she never said she had physically tried to stop Davis from abusing the boy.
“Only in her last interview did she say she jumped on his back to try and stop him and he threw her down the stairs, yet no marks, bruises, etc., which she acknowledges not having and she couldn’t explain,” Hill said.
O’Keefe told the court that his defendant told the truth at the last minute, but said she was scared of losing her kids and also scared of Davis.
Summerford, who remains in Brown County Jail, is set for arraignment on the six charges at 11:30 a.m., Monday, Oct. 28 in Brown County District Court.