26-year-old Jacksonville man Kevonce Lamont Ephriam was ordered Wednesday to spend the rest of his life in prison for capital murder in the death of his son.
Ending a two-day trial before Judge Karen Whatley, the 10 women and two men deliberated about two hours to find the Jacksonville man guilty as charged for the February 2020 slaying of his 3-month-old son, Kassius "Kash" Ephriam.
A life sentence was the automatic penalty. He's been jailed since his arrest two days after the infant's death.
Ephriam's lawyer, Jimmy Morris, asserted the baby's death was more likely caused by his father's inexpert and rough attempts to resuscitate Kassius after finding the baby unconscious.
Prosecutors Beth Kanopsic and Jeanna Sherrill told jurors all of the medical evidence -- from the location of bruises, scrapes and scratches on the baby's head, neck and face to his broken ribs and spine -- proved Kassius was deliberately killed. They said the 12-pound baby had been intentionally suffocated by something held against his face -- possibly a hand -- by the only adult with him, his father.
"This was not an accident," Kanopsic said in closing arguments. "These were violent injuries, deliberately inflicted on a 3-month-old child. That baby was in pain."
With testimony that smothering an infant would take about a minute, Sherrill urged jurors to consider how the baby would have struggled to breathe in his last moments.
"His little broken body tells you what happened to him. It tells you he was beaten and smothered to death," Sherrill said.
Further, Ephriam had threatened to hurt Kassius and the baby's mother the night before in an argument over money, prosecutors said.
Key to the prosecution case was the testimony Wednesday of Dr. Karen Farst, a top pediatrician with Arkansas Children's Hospital and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and recognized for her expertise in child abuse.
Reviewing Kassius' face, head and neck injuries, which included a bloody scrape on his nose and a bruised tongue, Farst said the only explanation is sustained abuse.
"There really isn't anything to do that but abuse ... but inflicted injury," she said.
She told jurors an infant likely would be able to struggle against suffocation for about a half-minute but would likely not survive much longer than 60 seconds without air.
"It could take over 30 seconds for the baby to stop struggling," Farst testified. "To be [a fatal] event ... would take a minute."
Further, Kassius' fractured T-11 vertebrae was a "very unusual" injury to see in an infant outside of a high-speed car crash or an adult falling on a baby, Farst said. That injury would be consistent with the baby's bottom being slammed into a hard surface causing the spine to collapse in on itself, she told jurors.
Farst said that poorly performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, no matter how rough, did not appear to be the cause of the spinal injury because the ribs corresponding to that vertebrae were not fractured. Any force hard enough to crack a vertebrae would have also damaged those ribs, she said.
She said CPR did not seem to be the likely cause of Kassius' rib fractures because breaking an infant's ribs is difficult since the rib case is constructed in children that young to be compressed to exit the birth canal.
"I've never seen a constellation of injuries like this" from CPR, Farst testified. "It's very uncommon for an infant who's had CPR to have injuries."
The only defense witness was Ephriam's sister, Nikita Henderson, 35, who said when she saw Kassius the day before he died, the baby had no injuries but appeared to be having difficulty breathing. She said the family planned on taking the baby to see his pediatrician the next day.
Henderson struggled to explain what about Kassius' breathing worried her, contradicting herself about the extent of how bad it was.
"He wasn't breathing normally. It looked like he was gasping, like he could barely breathe," she told jurors.
But on cross-examination, she testified he was not gasping.
"It didn't seem like normal breathing," she said. "I wouldn't say gasping."
Ephriam did not testify, although jurors saw a video-recorded police interview of him denying doing anything to hurt his son. Offered the opportunity to address the court after the jury verdict, Ephriam said he loved his son and would not do anything to harm him.
"I miss my son. I didn't intentionally hurt my son," he said, also apologizing to the baby's mother Undrea Nicole Brown as well as his own family. "I'm sorry for all of the pain I've caused."
Ephriam met his fate quietly, gradually lowering his head as the judge read the jury's findings until his forehead rested on the defense table.
But the announcement of the guilty verdict sent another Ephriam sister into a paroxysm of wailing as she got up and tried to leave the courtroom, falling to her knees by the exit, requiring bailiffs Kirk Knight and David Hudson to carry the shrieking woman out of the courtroom. She continued to cry and rant for sometime outside the courtroom.