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Baltimore man on trial for baby’s fatal beating hurt more children, prosecutors allege

Francois Browne has been charged with murder in the death of his girlfriend's 18-month-old baby Zaray Gray. Browne was released from jail in 2015 after serving less than three years for the death of his own son Kendall Brown.

Days before Francois Brown was to stand trial for beating his girlfriend’s toddler to death, city prosecutors accused him of once fracturing the femur of a baby girl.

Assistant State’s Attorney Michele Lambert told a judge that Brown fractured a baby girl’s leg bone in November 2017, bringing to three the number of young children he allegedly hurt. Two of them died.

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“The improbability of the defendant being innocently entangled in two child homicides and one serious non-fatality in the span of six years in facially inconceivable,” Lambert told the judge.

Attorneys argued Thursday about whether jurors should hear of the two other children. Brown is standing trial in Baltimore Circuit Court for the murder last summer of 1½-year-old Zaray Gray, the son of his girlfriend. He turned down a plea deal that would have given him a 40-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors are scheduled to begin their case Monday.

Brown had been babysitting the boy. He told detectives they went to the playground with two other children and Zaray fell off the slide, police wrote in charging documents. The 36-year-old from Woodbourne Heights in North Baltimore is charged with second-degree murder, assault and child abuse resulting in death. He faces life in prison if convicted of all charges.

On Thursday, prosecutors sought approval from the judge to present evidence of other abuses. Brown served less than three years in prison for the death of his son in 2012.

“The defendant meets women. Within a few months, their children are injured,” Lambert told the judge.

“Are you saying he meets women to kill their children or abuse their children?” Circuit Judge Charles Peters asked.

“It’s certainly a possibility,” the prosecutor said. “I don’t know if it’s the intent when he meets them, but he certainly has patterns.”

Brown’s public defender, Anne Stewart-Hill, argued that any similarities were trivial -- not proof that Brown alone was responsible.

The first case happened on New Year’s Eve 2012, when Brown’s seven-month-old son was hospitalized with fractured ribs and bleeding in his brain. The father had been alone with his son.

Brown submitted an Alford plea -- a guilty plea without admitting culpability – to child abuse resulting in death. Circuit Judge Timothy Doory sentenced him to 15 years in prison with all but four years suspended. Brown served two years and 11 months.

Subsequent accusations against Brown have brought attention to that prison sentence. Dr. Dylan Stewart, director of pediatric trauma at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has called child-abuse penalties far too lenient. More than 40 children have been killed by a guardian in the last decade, according to the city health department.

In November 2017, the infant daughter of Brown’s girlfriend suffered a fractured femur and ribs. Lambert said the girlfriend caught Brown hurting the child.

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“She exits a vehicle that she is in with the defendant and her child. She comes back to the vehicle, she sees her child crying, screaming,” Lambert told the judge, “and the defendant manipulating her child’s leg.”

The child survived. Police have not charged Brown or anyone else.

Stewart-Hill, the public defender, offered the possibility that Brown’s girlfriend was responsible, saying the mother once unleashed a beating on a child and a family member had to pull her off.

“Her response?” Stewart-Hill told the judge. “’You just have to do this sometimes.’”

Now, the girlfriend’s children are in foster care, Stewart-Hill added.

In his ruling, Peters prohibited mention of the baby girl and her broken femur, saying it would confuse jurors who must decide whether Brown killed Zaray Gray eight months later.

The judge, however, decided prosecutors may tell the jury Brown went to prison for his son’s death.

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