Case goes to jury in toddler's death

Murder defendant gives his account

Staff WriterFebruary 27, 2009 

— Self-declared Bloods gang member DonJuan Smith Jr. didn't call for help for an unconscious toddler he's now accused of killing because Smith's pre-paid cell phone only had seven minutes left on it.

"I'm going to call and say what?" Smith said, while testifying Thursday in court about the beating death of Charvus Dublin Jr., the 2-year-old son of Smith's girlfriend.

Smith took the stand Thursday to defend himself against accusations he pummeled to death Charvus, nicknamed "Junior" by his family, May 14 at the apartment where the two lived with Dolisha Campbell, 25, the child's mother, and her school-aged daughter.

But Smith, 25, also proudly told jurors that he was a member of a Westside Bounty Hunters set of the Bloods, exhibiting a gang tattoo on his arm and saying he'd been a member since 1996. He also freely admitted he sold drugs, left Junior alone in a full bathtub to make a $500 marijuana purchase and said he stabbed a person in New York, when he was 15, for assaulting his sister.

Smith has been on trial this week at the Wake County Courthouse, facing a first-degree murder charge that would carry a lifetime prison sentence if he's convicted.

Junior, the toddler, died from 41 blows to his 30-pound body, some hits severe enough to cause his brain to bleed and his liver to burst and bleed out, according to his autopsy. Smith was caring for him while Campbell was at work at a pizza parlor on the day Junior was killed. On Thursday, Campbell said she was aware Smith was a gang member and had been dating him for several months when her son died.

Was it retaliation?

Smith told jurors he thinks unnamed members of a rival Crips street gang broke into the Walnut Ridge apartment and beat the unattended toddler as retaliation for Smith selling drugs in Crips territory.

"Yes, he feels guilty," Smith's defense attorney George Kelly said during his closing arguments. "Not for beating that child, but for leaving him alone."

Smith's account of what happened May 14 was contradicted by testimony given previously by neighbors and Raleigh police who described the defendant as alternating between being unusually calm and nervous on the evening Junior died. At one point, a neighbor who was trying to resuscitate Junior said Smith walked into another room and watched a Lil Wayne video, commenting that he needed to buy that CD.

Smith initially told police Junior drowned, but an autopsy found otherwise.

"That baby was alive for every one of those blows," said Colleen Janssen, a Wake assistant district attorney trying the case.

Case goes to jury

Jurors will decide which version of events they believe when they return their verdict, which could be today. They began their deliberations late Thursday afternoon.

On the night of the killing, Smith initially told Raleigh police that Junior had been sick and possibly drowned, investigators testified. He never mentioned to them the possibility that unnamed Crips members killed Junior, as he said Thursday.

He said that he left the toddler alone in a filled bathtub to buy marijuana from a fellow gang member he only knew as Eric who had stopped by. When he came back, Smith said he found Junior face-down in the bathtub and thought the baby had drowned -- but Junior's autopsy didn't indicate a drowning.

Phone low on minutes

Smith didn't use his own cell phone to call for help, he said, because he didn't have enough minutes on his phone and he was trying to figure out how he was going to tell Campbell that her son had died.

For that, he went over to a neighbor's house to use their landline, after drying the baby off and dressing him in an outfit with Mickey Mouse patterns.

"I don't have to worry about rushing my words," Smith said, explaining why he wanted to use the neighbor's phone instead of his own cell phone.

But Smith's account about Crips controlling where he said he was selling drugs was contradicted by Raleigh police officer Rico Boyce, until recently a gang unit officer. Boyce testified the Southeast Raleigh apartment complex where Junior died and the surrounding area is considered to be Bloods territory. It would be unlikely any Crips would come into that part of town, Boyce said.

"I have never encountered a Crip in that apartment complex or that side of town," Boyce said. "When it comes to gangs, the Bloods control Southeast Raleigh."

Another murder trial

This is the second murder trial this month in the Wake courthouse concerning a member of a Westside Bounty Hunter Bloods set, which is said to be rooted outside of Wake County in Virginia.

Latrell "Murder" Latham, 17, was acquitted last week in the Wake County Courthouse in the October 2007 shooting death of church deacon Richard Gus Brown, 74.

Neighborhood teenagers testified that Latham bragged that he killed Brown as a way to increase his gang rank, but little physical evidence in the trial connected him to the killing.

sarah.ovaska@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4622

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