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Baltimore mother charged with manslaughter three years after son's death

A Baltimore mother convicted eight years ago of causing severe injuries to her young son has been charged with manslaughter in connection with his 2014 death.

Tamekia Martin, 36, is scheduled to be arraigned Friday on charges of first-degree child abuse resulting in death and manslaughter in the death of her son Damaud, who was 3 years old in January 2008 when he suffered severe head trauma and brain injuries.

It is the second time Martin has faced charges related to that injury. After spending 11 months in detention awaiting trial, she agreed to a deal to enter an Alford plea to one count of first-degree child abuse resulting in severe physical injury. Her plea in 2009 resulted in a 15-year suspended sentence and probation, which she successfully completed five years ago.

Martin lost custody of both Damaud and her daughter. Damaud remained in a coma-like state until July 2014, when he died at a state-run group home in Anne Arundel County that regulators were in the process of closing down for multiple problems, raising questions about his care.

An autopsy later that year concluded Damaud's death was a result of complications from his initial injury.

Baltimore police and prosecutors have continued to investigate the boy's death, and in February prosecutors authorized charges, records show.

Prosecutors said they could not comment about the case because it was pending.

"It is not unusual in complex cases such as this to conduct extensive thorough investigations to gather sufficient facts supporting the legal basis to proceed after the death is medically ruled a homicide," said Melba Saunders, spokeswoman for the State's Attorney Office, in an e-mail.

Martin's mother, Rosita, said the new charges came as a shock. She said her daughter has maintained that she did not assault Damaud, and entered the Alford plea — which allows a defendant to maintain their innocence — because she was told she could get out of jail. Rosita Martin said her daughter is autistic and had a limited understanding of the proceedings.

Tamekia Martin has fought unsuccessfully to win back custody of her children, including a daughter who is now 17 and whose whereabouts the family has no information about.

"She's gone on with her life, knowing she did time for something she didn't do," Rosita Martin said Thursday. "This is unbelievable. There are no words for what I feel right now."

Martin's attorney, public defender Sharon Dubey, said there are a number of factors that could complicate the state's case, including the amount of time that passed between Damaud's injuries and his death, the fact that Martin was convicted previously, and the role of the state facility's care.

"It's legally complex," she said. "It's going to require a lot of time and research."

Martin is being held without bail on the new charges.

Homicide Det. Todd Corriveau wrote in charging documents filed in February that an investigation determined Martin "rushed into Damaud Martin's upstairs bedroom, where he was playing on a bunk bed, and ... intentionally physically assaulted Damaud Martin by hitting him with her hand and arm with such force that he fell from the bunk bed into a TV stand/wall as he fell, and onto the floor."

Corriveau wrote that Martin was "in fact, the sole person that intentionally physically assaulted Damaud Martin ... immediately putting him in a non-responsive, vegetative state that robbed him of all future, normal cognitive and physical capabilities, ultimately killing him."

Police conferred with prosecutors, who agreed that Martin could be charged despite already being convicted in relation to the original assault.

Police in charging documents from the 2008 case said Martin had given conflicting stories about how Damaud was hurt. She first told police that Damaud fell down 10 steps in her home and complained that his arm hurt. She laid him down to bed and found him unresponsive when she went to check on him a half hour later, police said.

In a subsequent interview with detectives six days later, she said she was folding clothes when she heard a bang and saw Damaud falling down the stairs. She said she took him to use the bathroom, and he "stiffened up and started shaking, then passed out."

Doctors at Johns Hopkins determined in March 2008 that Damaud's brain injury and bleeding on the brain were consistent with "shaken baby" syndrome.

When seeking bail in the 2008 case, her then-attorney said Martin's then-girlfriend was responsible for Damaud's injuries. She wrote in court papers that Martin's daughter "gave four different versions of what happened to her brother, but all were consistent in that her mother's girlfriend ... caused the injury."

The attorney said Martin's daughter was "terrified of [the girlfriend] and thus lied to police."

Martin entered her plea in May 2009, and was released from jail and enrolled in case management services, individual therapy and psychiatric services, and positive parenting programs. Records indicate Martin completed those programs successfully, and her probation ended in September 2012.

In 2013, Martin wrote to Judge Kendra Ausby and said she had been "erroneously charged" and said her parental rights for Damaud and a sibling had been wrongly terminated.

"Since that time, evidence was presented to the criminal court and juvenile court supporting facts that I did not injure nor neglect either one of my children," Martin wrote. "I am not guilty."

The Baltimore Department of Social Services became Damaud's legal guardian. He eventually was placed in the care of a group home run by a company called LifeLine.

A LifeLine nurse who was caring for Damaud when he died on the morning of July 2, 2014, told The Baltimore Sun that she was caring for three disabled children who relied on feeding and breathing tubes even though their care plans called for one-on-one supervision.

Damaud breathed through a tracheostomy tube connected to a ventilator and was under a "do not resuscitate" order authorized by social services officials.

State health officials launched an investigation into whether Damaud received adequate care while living at the home, finding serious violations there but nothing that contributed to Damaud's death.

In October 2014, Damaud's death was ruled a homicide, with the medical examiner's office concluding it was a result of his original injuries suffered in 2008.

Rosita Martin said she has records showing that her daughter was cleared by a family court of abuse and neglect of her children after Damaud's injury in 2008, but still was unable to regain custody of her children.

She said officials "have files showing no history of abuse, no history of neglect, and won't lift one finger to help."

"I'm sick and tired of people whispering about what they think happened," she said. "My entire family has been decimated by this corrupt foster care system."

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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