By Betsy Finklea
The trial of the State v. Judy Cox, who is charged with homicide by child abuse in the death of five-month-old Jeremiah Thompson began on Monday.
In his opening statement, Assistant Solicitor Shipp Daniel began on September 5, 2018 when Melissa Thompson gave birth to twins, Jeremiah and Zachariah. They were premature, born at 34 weeks, healthy and normal. In November 2018, the twins started going to Generations Daycare.
On February 12, 2019, Melissa got the boys up, dressed and fed them, and the family who had one card at the time, took the boys to the daycare, the family’s first stop. They were fine and healthy. Judy Cox met them at the door just before 7:00 a.m., and after dropping off the boys, Robert, the father took the daughter to school and dropped Melissa off at work and then headed for work himself.
Daniel then touched on the three statements of Judy Cox. Daniel then described what he said Cox said in her statement. A little after 10:30 a.m., Cox was feeding Jeremiah. She said he spit up, and she cleaned it up. She put him on the changing table and went to change his diaper. Daniel said that Cox said he went limp and shook him a little and sought help from other employees.
Two employees performed CPR and called 9-1-1. Jeremiah had to be intubated. Melissa was called and told that Jeremiah was taken to the ER. Forty-five minutes later, a brain scan was done. Jeremiah was bleeding on the brain and not breathing on his own.
On February 16, 2019, after a series of scans, tests, and medicine and doctors saying there was nothing else that could be done, Jeremiah passed away while being held in his mother’s arms.
How did this tragedy get to court? Daniel said the police interviewed Cox and other daycare workers. At that point, they didn’t know if a crime had been committed, but they knew something wasn’t normal. They called the ER doctor and the trauma specialist in Florence.
Daniels said questions had to be answered.
1) Were the injuries to Jeremiah a result of something natural or inflicted by someone?
Daniel said the injuries were severe, and the doctors will tell the jury it did not happen naturally.
2) If the injuries that were inflicted by someone, when did it happen?
He said the testimony from Cox was that Jeremiah was awake, alert, eating, and playing. Daniel said doctors will say that it had to happen at the daycare. There was no way the baby would have acted normal.
3) Who did it?
Daniel said on three different occasions, Cox has said she was the only adult in the infant room all morning. He said Cox answers the third question herself.
Daniel said that Cox was charged with inflicting great bodily harm on a child.
On February 16, Jeremiah passed away. Daniel said at request they sought a second opinion. This second opinion came from the Chief Pediatric Doctor at MUSC in Charleston. It took several weeks, but his opinion was that the injuries were inflicted by someone and happened in the 7:00 a.m.-10:45 a.m. window.
The autopsy said it was an inflicted trauma and happened in the time window.
“This was not a rush to judgment,” said Daniel. He said that’s why it took a while for Cox to be charged with homicide by child abuse.
Daniel said this trial is hard for the Thompsons, hard for the Coxes, hard for the lawyers, and will be hard for the jury.
Daniel said they would not say Cox was a had person and they will never say Cox intended for Jeremiah to die.
Daniel explained that homicide by child abuse is when someone causes the death of a child under age 11. He said it includes failure to exercise due care and can be unintentional.
Daniel said sometimes people make mistakes. He said maybe she lost it for a moment. He said Cox said she shook Jeremiah.
Daniel said once the jury hears the experts, the daycare workers, the Thompsons, and the other witnesses, he feels they will be left with no other option than a guilty verdict.
In her opening statement, Defense Attorney Rose Mary Parham said “this case is a tragic case.” She said her heart breaks for the Thompson family.
Parham said this is also a tragic case for Judy Cox because she is wrongfully accused of something she did not do. Parham said at the time of the incident, Cox was a 58-year-old God-fearing woman, who had operated this daycare for 15 years. In 15 years, no law enforcement or ambulance had ever been at the daycare.
Parham said Cox prided herself on the baby room. Generations of families had brought their babies to Judy Cox, and she loved every one of them.
At 10:00 a.m., Cox started waking the babies up. Cox was sitting on the floor feeding Jeremiah a bottle. She said Jeremiah started coughing and choking on the milk. She turned him on his side. She took him to the changing table. She had taken off his pants and was reaching with her right hand for the diapers. She looks down, and Jeremiah’s eyes are rolled back in his head, and he started arching up. She put one hand on his stomach and one on his back. She asked Jeremiah, son, what’s wrong? He was limp. She takes him and calls for help. The workers do CPR. The ambulance is there in minutes. Cox is distraught.
Parham alleged that the baby was not in perfect health. She said the baby was taking breathing treatments for 10 weeks and claimed that he took one even the day before the tragedy. She said the baby had medical problems.
Parham said the state will try to claim shaken baby syndrome because of the swelling of the brain, bleeding of the brain, and bleeding of the eyes, but there is not enough to do this. She said it’s false when the state says babies don’t get brain bleeds and die. “Bad things happen,” she said.
Parham says there was a rush to judgment because Cox was charged with the initial charge before the autopsy was done.
Parham said they had a renowned medical expert, who would say there were plenty of medical conditions that could have caused this as well as the effects of CPR on an infant.
Parham said MUSC in Charleston lost the tissue block from Jeremiah taken during the autopsy that allows others to give a second opinion, and it has not been found.
Parham said Cox loved that child like her own and that she cooperated and made three statements before hiring a lawyer.
She said Jeremiah was having life-altering events that morning. She said they may never know for sure what happened. She said it is the State’s burden to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt, and she feels the jury will find Cox not guilty.
The last smile, the last touch, the last time she held her baby. After the defense’s opening statement, Melissa Renee Thompson, the mother of Jeremiah, gave powerful, heart-wrenching testimony as she cried—and at times, sobbing—through most of it.
M. Thompson was born and reared in Dillon. She is married to Robert Thompson They have four children including Jeremiah. She is a school teacher in Rowland. Her daughter, who was 14 at the time, is a student at S.C. State, and her son, who was 12 at the time, is a rising senior at Dillon High School. Zachariah and Jeremiah were twins. They were a pleasant surprise and a blessing, she said. Thompson said they had a loving family and were always together.
Thompson said Jeremiah was a chubby baby, active, and always wanting to be held. She remembered how he would reach his arms out to be picked up out of the car seat. Zachariah was more laid back and calm, and they always did the same thing at the same time.
Thompson said the twins had no health issues. At one time, they were doing breathing treatments, but those were “as needed.”
Thompson said on the days leading up to the event, there was nothing unusual.
On February 11th, Jeremiah was very happy and excited—giggling, smiling, and kicking. There was nothing odd.
The morning was the normal routine. They got ready about 6:30 a.m. and locked in the car. She remembers the smiles they both had that morning. That was the last smile she saw on Jeremiah’s face.
They went straight to Generations Daycare. There had been no problems before this day. She had one twin. Her daughter had the other. The first person they saw was Judy Cox. She relayed the normal information that they boys were fed and changed.
Her husband dropped off her daughter and then took M. Thompson to the school and dropped her off.
M. Thompson said she went into the school to her class of first graders. They had a busy morning. Right after snack time at 10:00 a.m., M. Thompson got a phone call. She had an observer in the classroom watching her teach a math lesson. The phone ran in the classroom. The observer gestured to here that it was okay for her to answer the phone. The Caller ID said Generations Daycare so she answered it.
The voice on the other end said Mrs. Melissa, Jeremiah is on the way to the ER (emergency room). “What’s wrong with my baby?,” she asked. The voice said he was having a cough attack “A cough attack?,” she questioned. She asked if they had called her husband. They said he wouldn’t answer the phone. She called her husband, and he said no one had called him.
She ran out in the hall forgetting her class to leave to go to the hospital when she remembered her husband had dropped her off, and she had no car. “How am I going to get to my baby?,” she asked.
A co-worker came up and said I got you. On the way to the hospital, the co-worker was driving and praying. Thompson was crying and saying “get me to my baby.” The co-worker let her out at the front entrance of the hospital while she went to park the car.
She walked in and Judy Cox met her. “What is going on with my baby,” she asked.
Thompson said Cox told her that she had the babies on the floor having playtime as required by DSS. She picked up Jeremiah to feed him and he coughed up all the milk. She picked up a cloth to clean it up, and he started coughing again. She took him to the changing table. She said he laid him down, he coughed again, and she picked up the baby and began to shake him.
“Did you shake my five-month-old baby?,” she asked.
Cox said she did when he went limp.
“Did you shake my five-month-old baby?,” she asked again.
She said the receptionist opened the door and she went in with Judy Cox behind her. Thompson said when she got to the hospital room, she saw her baby with no life in his body. Nurses and doctors were working on him
She went to the bed, and said “Jeremiah, it will be okay.”
The doctor said it was Zachariah. She told the doctor to look at the birthmark on his right foot. He said, “Mom, you’re right.” The wrong name of the child had been given and it had to be changed in the computer.
Jeremiah was taken for a brain scan. The doctor came back and said the baby was bleeding in the brain.
“No, he’s not,” she said, but he was and had to be transferred to McLeod in Florence.
The medical staff told her she had to leave the room so they could prepare him for transfer. She said she couldn’t leave her baby, but she complied, and they took her to a room where she could see in. Judy Cox was on one side of her and her father was on the other. When the doctor came in and gave the CT results that Jeremiah was bleeding on the brain, Thompson said Cox jumped up and ran out.
Thompson wasn’t allowed to ride the ambulance. Her pastor and his wife took her and her husband to Florence.
When they got there, the medical staff was working on Jeremiah and wouldn’t allow her in the room yet. She said when she did walk in the room and saw all those tubes, she said, “This is not my baby. This is not how he was when I dropped him off at the daycare.”
When asked, she mentioned that there was a bruise on her baby’s face that she noticed at the ER in Dillon that was not there in the morning when she dropped him off.
She was only allowed to touch him once more time while he was alive. She put his hand on her finger and wrapped it around, and he squeezed it. It was the last touch.
Thompson never left the hospital for the next four days. She wouldn’t leave her baby.
On his last day at 4:30 p.m., they took Jeremiah for his last test. They brought him back, but there was no good news. The doctor said there was one more test to do—examine his eyes.
Thompson recalled that she didn’t think she could take it.
The doctor opened Jeremiah’s right eye and shined a light, there was no response. He opened the left eye and shined a light, there was no response.
The doctor looked at her husband and said, “Jeremiah is no longer with us.”
“No,” she pleaded. “Do it again, doctor.” The doctor said, “Mama, he’s gone.”
She asked if she could please hold her baby. The doctor looked at the nurses and said yes, but be gentle.
Her husband, her daughter, her son—her family—surrounded her as she held the baby.
She saw his stomach was rising. She thought Jeremiah was still alive. She urged them to call someone.
Her husband said, “No. The baby is leaving you.” She saw the baby go to the left, and that was it.
She said, “No God, no God.” She asked her daughter to come hold her baby brother one more time. She said beside her.
Her testimony ended.
During the cross-examination by Parham, Parham’s line of questioning attempted to indicate that Jeremiah was not well; however, Thompson said he was very healthy, and the breathing treatments were as needed. She questioned her about various doctor’s appointments, but according to Thompson’s answers, many of the appointments were for the other baby. She said she did not recall many of the things that Parham attempted to bring up.
Testimony was to continue on Tuesday.