A Baltimore jury yesterday found 16-year-old Ronald Hinton guilty of murdering and raping a 4-year-old girl he was baby-sitting.
Hinton's attorney maintained her client's innocence yesterday, pointing to a lack of conclusive DNA evidence and suggesting that someone else entered the house on the 2900 block of Goodwood Road and murdered Ja'Niya E. Williams.
But prosecutors relied on a detailed, taped confession from Hinton, who said that he raped her, bit her on the chest and thigh, and beat her with a belt, at one point chasing her downstairs and carrying her back to an upstairs bedroom, where the abuse continued. At the time, he was 15 and believed Ja'Niya was his cousin.
Juror Michael Gaines, 33, said that the group of five men and seven women convicted Hinton because the teen was the only one present in the house in at the time Williams suffered a fatal blow to the head.
"The fact is basically that if someone else was present in the home, the defendant should have been able to testify to that, that he heard something or that something else was apparently going on in an upstairs room," Gaines said. "We were able to eliminate everyone else thrown at us by the defense."
Hinton's attorney, Janice Bledsoe, argued that the confession was coerced and that DNA evidence pointed to a female attacker. Hinton's DNA was found under the toddler's left-hand fingernail and on the armpit of an extra large white T-shirt found in an upstairs bedroom, Bledsoe said. The rest of the samples, she said, pointed to unknown individuals, or did not contain enough bodily fluid or human tissue to identify someone.
"Nobody wants to believe a female did this. Nobody wants to believe a 15-year-old did this," Bledsoe said. "But if you believe the DNA evidence, it has to be a female. And there was one who had access and could come in and out of that home."
Hinton testified that he was cooking breakfast in June 2006 when he heard a thump upstairs. He said he ran upstairs to find Ja'Niya, then known as Ja'Niya Woodley, naked and wedged on the floor between the bed and a dresser. He then dressed her, wrapped her in a blanket, took her outside and called 911, saying that the girl had fallen off the bed, Bledsoe said.
"From the very beginning, we considered the DNA neutral, that it wouldn't be a determining factor," said prosecutor Jo Anne Stanton, chief of the state's attorney's sex offense division.
Gaines said the jury agreed.
"There were so many people touching her, helping her with her injuries," he said. "It eliminated the DNA."
Ja'Niya was raised by Hinton's uncle, though the man learned at the hospital, soon before the toddler died, that he was not her biological father. That revelation and the crime divided the family, both at the hospital and in the courtroom. Hinton's relatives sat behind the defense table and Ja'Niya's family was seated behind prosecutors yesterday. Authorities ordered one side to leave at a time. The court wanted to prevent the "yelling and screaming" that erupted at the hospital, Bledsoe said.
Circuit Judge John Addison Howard is expected to sentence Hinton in about six weeks, Stanton said. A date has not been set.