When Xzayvion Riley’s father stands trial in the June 2012 beating death of the 8-year-old Baton Rouge boy, a jury will be allowed to hear about the broken leg he suffered in his father’s presence four months earlier and about repeated punches his father is accused of delivering to him outside a day care center two months before he died, a judge ruled Friday.
But two other alleged incidents of abuse, one dating as far back as 2008, when Xzayvion was 4, will be off-limits at Michael Robertson’s first-degree murder trial, state District Judge Don Johnson decided.
Robertson’s attorneys, who pledged to appeal parts of Johnson’s ruling, said in a statement the abuse claims against Robertson “are either entirely false or take accidental injuries out of context.”
Prosecutor Will Morris said the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office has mixed feelings about the judge’s decision and is considering an appeal.
“We’re generally happy with it,” Morris said.
Robertson, 49, and Xzayvion’s mother, Lavaughn Riley, 35, are each charged with first-degree murder in his June 12, 2012, death.
Robertson was Lavaughn Riley’s boyfriend at the time. They will be tried separately. No trial dates are set. Prosecutors have yet to say if they will seek the death penalty against either Robertson or Riley.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office classified Xzayvion’s death as a homicide, finding he died of “overwhelming infection” caused by a ruptured bowel from blunt-force trauma to his abdomen. An autopsy documented 60 external signs of recent and old trauma, including abrasions, bruises and a human bite mark.
Robertson has denied any involvement in his son’s injuries, sheriff’s officials have said.
Prosecutors claim Robertson injured Xzayvion’s mouth with a belt in November 2008; choked him and shoved his head into a toilet in August 2010; broke his leg in February 2012; and repeatedly punched him outside Pierson’s Brilliant Minds Learning Center in April 2012.
Morris has referred to the alleged incidents as an escalating pattern of abuse leading up to Xzayvion’s death.
Brilliant Minds Learning Center owner Evelyn Pierson testified last summer at a pretrial hearing that she saw Robertson punching Xzayvion in the parking lot of her facility in April 2012 but did not report what she witnessed.
Riley also testified last year that she heard her son’s leg pop in February 2012 while he tried to get away from Robertson during what she called horseplay. But Xzayvion’s oldest sister testified her brother and Robertson weren’t playing around when her brother tried to crawl under a bed to escape from Robertson.
Johnson ruled the alleged fall 2008 incident inadmissible at trial, as well as Xzayvion’s statements in 2010 that his father choked him and put his head in a toilet. But the judge said prosecutors can use as evidence Riley’s statements that she held her son down in 2010 while Robertson hit him with an open hand on the stomach.
Xzayvion’s oldest sister told deputies that Robertson beat her brother with his fist the day before he died, an affidavit of probable cause states. Morris said prosecutors are not barred from using that evidence.
After the alleged 2010 incident, a safety plan was put in place by the state Department of Children and Family Services to limit Robertson’s involvement with his son, Morris has said. The plan was in place until April 2011.