The two baby boys died five years apart, both of them bruised and beaten.
Seven-month-old Kendall Brown suffered fractured ribs and bleeding in his brain in December 2012. Then 18-month-old Zaray Gray died with a broken clavicle and internal injuries last week.
The father of the first child, a Baltimore man who spent almost three years in prison for his son’s death, has been charged in the death of the second child, his girlfriend’s son.
Francois Browne, 35, of Woodbourne Heights, was charged Saturday with murder in the death of Zaray Gray. Browne remains held without bail.
Online court records did not list an attorney for him.
The second case against Browne has focused attention to the prison sentence he received after his son’s death. After Browne was convicted of child abuse resulting in death, Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory sentenced him to 15 years in prison with all but four years suspended.
Browne served two years and 11 months in prison.
“This guy should still be in jail,” said Dr. Dylan Stewart, director of pediatric trauma at Johns Hopkins Hospital. “The penalties are far too lenient.”
Recent years have brought an uptick in the number of children killed in Baltimore by a parent or guardian. While there were two such deaths reported in 2007, there were at least eight in 2016, according to the latest report by the Baltimore City Child Fatality Review Team. More than 40 children have been killed by a guardian in the last decade, according to the city health department.
“I have a huge amount of concern for the level of child abuse in Baltimore,” Stewart said. “Murdering a child should not have a different penalty than pulling the trigger and murdering an adult.”
One youth advocate said the case could spur efforts to tighten a new law aimed at alerting social services agencies if someone becomes a parent after being convicted of killing a child.
The new law, which takes effect Oct. 1, requires courts to notify the state health department when someone is convicted of the murder, attempted murder or manslaughter of a child. Later, if a birth certificate lists that person as being the parent of a newborn, the local social services department is to be notified so officals can provide an assessment of the family and offer services if needed.
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of the nonprofit group Advocates for Children and Youth, said the law is aimed at protecting children whose parents have killed or seriously harmed a child in the past.
But a limitation, she said, is that it applies only to people convicted of three crimes: murder, attempted murder and manslaughter. That means it wouldn’t kick in for someone convicted of child abuse, even in a case that resulted in death.
Another limitation is that the law would alert authorities only if the convicted person became a parent, not if someone simply was a caretaker of a child. The law matches court records with birth records.
Bevan-Dangel said the law might need to be broadened to cover more scenarios. “Potentially there is more work to be done on this statute to make sure it’s is casting the right-size safety net,” she said.
Meanwhile, the deepening opioid epidemic has heightened concerns about child abuse in Baltimore. In March, Anne Kirsch, 37, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after police found her infant son beaten, starved and dead at 9 days old. She admitted to using heroin during her pregnancy and on the night before her son died.
Browne’s son was hospitalized on New Year’s Eve 2012 with bleeding in his brain. Doctors pronounced the baby brain dead three days later. Browne had been alone with his son the night the boy was hospitalized, police wrote in charging documents. Browne was convicted of child abuse resulting in death.
He was released from prison in December 2015, officials said. He also received five years of probation.
On Wednesday night, police found 1½-year-old Zaray Gray injured in a home in the West Forest Park neighborhood of Northwest Baltimore. Browne had taken the boy and two other children to the playground earlier that day, police wrote in charging documents.
Once home, they wrote, Zaray began throwing up. Officers wrote that Browne told them he was alone with the boy in the home while the other children played outside. He heard the boy moaning and later that night the child stopped breathing, officers wrote.
Doctors found bruises on the boy’s face, chin, neck and mouth. The boy’s left clavicle was broken, police said.
Browne told police the boy had fallen while going down a sliding board, bumping his head and back.
Doctors also found tears to his bowels, police wrote, “likely caused by multiple blows to the abdomen.”