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.
Panic set in when the Northwest Baltimore mother checked on her toddler during nap time last summer. His mouth hung open, but she felt no air.
She leaned close to listen. Little Zaray Gray wasn’t breathing.
“My baby is not responsive!” Whitney West cried to the 911 operator.
On Monday, a Baltimore jury listened to the frantic moments as the operator instructed the distraught mother to perform CPR on her toddler.
“Please, God. Please!” West cried out in the recorded call.
“Don’t give up,” the dispatcher said. “This will keep him going until the medics arrive.”
It was an emotional start Monday to the murder case against West’s ex-boyfriend in Baltimore Circuit Court. Prosecutors charged Francois Brown, 36, with second-degree murder, saying he beat West’s 18-month-old son to death in July 2018.
“Zaray had been punched multiple times in the stomach,” Assistant State’s Attorney Michele Lambert told the jury. “Blows so terrible that they tore his intestines. He lost so much blood in his bowel that he eventually died.”
Brown submitted an Alford plea — a guilty plea without admitting culpability — to child abuse resulting in death in that 2012 case. Circuit Judge Timothy Doory sentenced him to 15 years in prison with all but four years suspended. Brown served two years and 11 months.
Last week, prosecutors told a judge of yet another child whom they allege Brown hurt. He had been dating another women in November 2017, and her infant daughter suffered a broken femur and bruised ribs. The girl survived; Brown has not been charged in that incident.
His defense attorney, Anne Stewart-Hill, did not offer another explanation for the death of Zaray Gray in her opening statement to the jury. She did, however, urge them to resist the temptation to seek vengeance with their verdict.
“This case cannot be decided on emotions,” she told them. “Doing justice for Zaray is not convicting the wrong person.”
On Thursday, prosecutors offered Brown a plea deal of 40 years in prison, but he declined.
On Monday, during opening arguments, they told the jury about July 18, 2018, the final day of Zaray’s short life. The boy ate oatmeal and strawberries for breakfast. While his mother cleaned up, Brown walked her three children to the playground.
West had met Brown about two months earlier through the dating website Plenty Of Fish. She was new to Baltimore, having moved from Washington, D.C., with her three young children for the city’s affordable rents. They settled in a two-bedroom townhouse on a charming cul-de-sac at the north end of Leakin Park.
Brown had told her his son was dead. He also told her authorities had tried to blame him, but he was cleared of the boy’s death, West said.
“He told me that he was not guilty,” she told the jury as she began her testimony Monday.