Baton Rouge prosecutors won’t seek the death penalty against a man accused of inflicting fatal injuries to his girlfriend’s nearly 11-month-old daughter Aaliyah Heard in 2013 after the girl refused to eat grits.
District Attorney Hillar Moore III said the decision to remove the death penalty as a possible sentence was made primarily out of concern for the emotional well-being of the girl’s young brother. He added that capital cases tend to take many years to reach the trial stage, followed by a lengthy appeal process.
“The juvenile witness was 6 years old at the time he witnessed his sister’s murder,” Moore said. “It is stressful for any witness to testify but especially a child. That was experienced by the juvenile witness when he was compelled to testify against his own mother.
“Our foremost concern is to attempt to bring finality to the surviving brother of Aaliyah Heard who cared for her more than either of her own parents,” he added. “We want him to be able to be a kid and successful student, brother, etc.”
The children’s mother, Ashley Heard, was convicted of second-degree murder on Aug. 20 in her daughter’s death and on Tuesday was sentenced to life in prison. Heard also received the maximum 40 years in prison for her second-degree cruelty to a juvenile conviction in the case.
Heard said nothing before state District Judge Richard Anderson imposed the sentence.
“The primary responsibility of a mother is to protect her child. You didn’t do that,” the judge said to Heard.
Heard’s attorney, Robert Tucker, told Anderson she intends to appeal her conviction. At Tucker’s request, the judge appointed the Louisiana Appellate Project to handle her appeal.
Anderson also set an Aug. 15 trial date for Heard’s boyfriend, Larry Leflore, who is charged with first-degree murder and second-degree cruelty to a juvenile. Aaliyah is believed to be his daughter.
East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Barrios told Anderson of the decision to not seek the death penalty. Leflore still faces a life sentence if convicted as charged of first-degree murder.
Aaliyah’s 8-year-old brother, who now lives with foster parents, testified at their mother’s trial that Leflore “whooped my little sister a lot.”
Leflore’s court-appointed attorneys, Mario Guadamud and Katherine Sheely, said after court they are pleased that the death penalty is no longer an option in the case, but they stressed there are no winners.
Leflore, 28, also of Baton Rouge, is accused of hitting the baby and throwing her after she refused to eat grits.
Aaliyah was taken to the hospital June 21, 2013, and died the next day from blunt-force trauma to the head.
Her autopsy revealed bleeding and bruising on the brain, hemorrhaging in an eye, facial bruising, a broken collarbone, rectal tearing and cigarette burns on her tiny body — including one the size of a golf ball on her upper right thigh.
The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services has said it had no substantiated reports of abuse or neglect before Aaliyah’s death.
Less than a week before Heard was indicted in September 2013, she called the District Attorney’s Office and told prosecutors her daughter’s rectal tearing was caused by constipation and that the large burn mark on her leg was a carpet burn.
Heard stated in the recorded call that she took Aaliyah to her pediatrician for the alleged constipation and carpet burn, but the doctor testified at Heard’s trial that he never treated the child for constipation or a burn. He was shown a photograph of the burn and said it did not resemble a carpet burn.
Barrios argued at the trial that Heard was criminally negligent in failing to shield her daughter from abuse at the hands of Leflore.