Xzayvion Riley’s mother testified Tuesday that her son was afraid of Michael Anthony Robertson — the boy’s father and accused killer — because he would discipline the young child by hitting and spanking him, and the child would sometimes get injured, once with a broken leg.
A prosecutor told a Baton Rouge judge during the same pretrial hearing in Robertson’s first-degree murder case that four alleged incidents involving Robertson and Xzayvion preceded the boy’s beating death in June 2012.
In the last incident in February 2012, which occurred four months before Xzayvion died, Lavaughn Riley testified she heard her child’s leg pop when Robertson broke the boy’s leg while he tried to get away from Robertson during what Riley described as horseplay.
Riley, who also is charged with first-degree murder in her son’s death, acknowledged once spanking Xzayvion so hard that she left marks on his back, saying she lied to state child-protection workers and told them her son had fallen out of his bed.
“I didn’t want them to take my children from me,” said a teary-eyed Riley, dressed in a green prison jumpsuit. Her attorney, Margaret Lagattuta, sat in the jury box that was near Riley.
State District Judge Don Johnson is presiding over the hearing, which began Tuesday and is expected to last at least three days, to determine whether prosecutors will be allowed to introduce at Robertson’s trial evidence of the incidents leading up to Xzayvion’s death.
Jim Craig, one of Robertson’s attorneys, argued Tuesday that the prior events are inadmissible. Craig characterized those incidents, which did not result in charges against Robertson, as a “potpourri or tsunami of unsubstantiated allegations.”
But East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Will Morris argued that even though Xzayvion allegedly died as a result of a punch to the stomach delivered by Robertson, the boy’s death was a culmination of escalating incidents involving Robertson.
“This offense did not happen the moment Michael Robertson hit Xzayvion Riley in the stomach,” Morris told the judge, adding that “this is not a one-punch case.”
Prosecutors have not said whether they intend to seek the death penalty against Robertson, 48, and Riley, 34, both of Baton Rouge. They will be tried separately.
Riley said she hopes prosecutors will look favorably on her cooperation but stressed that the main reason for her testimony is her son.
“I’m here to make it right for Xzayvion,” she said through tears. “I’m doing this for Xzayvion. He needs to be heard.”
University Terrace Elementary teacher Betty Dupont testified she noticed abrasions around Xzayvion’s mouth in November 2008.
“He said Tony had tied something on his face,” Dupont said. “That was the first time any of us ever hearing of a father being present.”
In court documents filed last year, Morris indicated Xzayvion said his father had put a belt to his mouth and moved it from side to side.
Dr. M.P. Jaysankaran, a local pediatrician who examined Xzayvion after the 2008 incident, testified he considered the marks on the boy’s face nonaccidental and consistent with being made by a flat object such as a belt.
Robertson denied any wrongdoing in the 2008 incident, saying he was “rough-housing” with Xzayvion when the boy started falling off the bed, defense documents show. Robertson said he grabbed his son by the collar of his T-shirt, which got caught on the boy’s mouth.
The state’s child protection office closed the case after the results of its investigation were inconclusive in terms of a finding of child abuse.
Morris said Xzayvion also told state workers in August 2010 that Robertson choked him and shoved his head into a toilet, leaving abrasions on his neck that teachers noticed and reported.
Riley testified she spanked her son, and then Robertson disciplined Xzayvion by hitting him eight or nine times on the stomach with the palm side of his hand after the boy stole a pair of sunglasses from the mall.
“No choking,” she insisted with Robertson sitting across the courtroom in an orange prison jumpsuit.
After the August 2010 incident, Morris has stated and court documents show, a safety plan was put in place by the state Department of Children and Family Services “to limit Robertson’s involvement with his son.” The plan was in place until April 2011.
In the February 2012 incident in which Xzayvion suffered a broken leg, Riley testified her son and Robertson were “horseplaying.”
“Xzayvion ended up underneath the bed. I heard his leg pop. He was trying to get away from him,” Riley said.
Riley said she took her son to the hospital, but not until two days later.
“I didn’t want to think that his dad had really broken his leg,” she said. “We were thinking it was more of a pulled muscle.”
Riley also admitted she had spanked Xzayvion several days earlier for stealing candy and had left marks on his back.
Finally, in April 2012, Morris said a worker at Brilliant Minds Learning Academy allegedly witnessed Robertson punching Xzayvion in the chest and stomach outside the day care center.
“A few months later, Xzayvion is dead,” Morris said.
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark deemed Xzayvion’s death a homicide, finding the boy died of “overwhelming infection” caused by a ruptured bowel from blunt-force trauma to his abdomen. An autopsy also showed 60 external signs of recent and old trauma, including abrasions, bruises and a human bite mark.