Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) information
- Name: Donna L.
- DOB: 4/20/1978
- GDC ID: 797995
- Offense: fill in GDC ID
- Sentence: LIFE
- Incarceration begin: 7/18/1994
According to Georgia Supreme Court Justice Sears Donna L. was raised in deplorable conditions and herself the victim of mistreatment and molestation. She was only 15 when charged, along with her husband James L., with murder in the beating death of her four-month-old son.
On September 16, 1993, James L. ”approached a police officer in a supermarket parking lot and asked the officer to call an ambulance because his stepson had stopped breathing. The officer drove James to his residence nearby. The child was found lying on the floor in the apartment, wearing only a diaper. There were several bruises on the child's face and forehead, and he was not breathing.” Donna, who was in the same room, said that the baby had slipped from her hands and fallen in the shower two days earlier.
In a statement to police later that evening, Donna “revealed that she had lied regarding the fall in the shower for fear that DFACS (Division of Family and Children Services) would remove the child from her care.” Her husband now told the police that it was he who had dropped the child.
The baby was in a coma when admitted to the hospital and died the next afternoon. The medical examiner found that the baby's death was due to blunt force injuries to the head, along with violent shaking and that “there's just no way that this happened as the result of a fall in the shower,” or as the result of any other type of fall.
Several weeks earlier, Donna’s aunt had observed bruises on the child's face; when she asked about the cause of the injuries, Donna told her that the child had fallen out of his infant carrier onto the floor.
Two weeks before the child's death, the aunt observed more serious injuries. When she asked Donna who was beating the child, appellant responded, “nobody” and she began to cry. The aunt advised Donna to seek medical attention for the child, but Donna did not respond.
The aunt then showed the child to the biological father. When he asked about the bruises, Donna explained that he had fallen off a bed. An DFACS caseworker, alerted by the aunt and the father, determined that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the child had been abused, but agreed to investigate further.
At court, Donna and her husband each presented defenses attempting to show that the other caused the fatal injuries. The State, on the other hand, offered evidence of a pattern of abuse and neglect on the part of both. The indictment charged Donna with felony murder with the underlying felony of cruelty to children by shaking and beating the boy and by failing to seek proper medical attention after the injuries were inflicted.
Donna was given a sentence of life imprisonment for malice murder on August 3, 1994.
In the subsequent Supreme Court case, two of the judges filed a dissenting opinion: The evidence “was conflicting as to who delivered the fatal blows and was not so overwhelming as to demand a conviction for malice murder or felony murder (...) It showed that Loren did something wrong, but not necessarily murder.” The dissenting President Justice Fletcher added that because the jury was given only two options, murder or acquit, the jury could not return a verdict of cruelty to children as a lesser included offense.
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