Family asks for justice in death of 3-year-old Wilson child, investigation ongoing
On Sept. 17, three people arrested in connection with the death of a 3-year-old Wilson child spent the morning in court. Just beyond the courthouse walls, family and friends of the victim and his mother stood in solidarity, with signs asking for justice.
The child’s aunt, Shannon Michelle Smith, 29, the child’s father, James Daren Smith, 23, and the child’s uncle, Frank James Smith, 24, were all arrested for alleged child abuse last month after 3-year-old James was found unresponsive at their residence.
The Smiths attended a preliminary conference on Sept. 17 in which the court heard from the parties and decided how to proceed. District Attorney Craig Ladd said the matter will be continued to Oct. 8 for another conference as the state is still waiting on the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s investigative report to be submitted, as well as the autopsy report.
“The OSBI agent is still investigating the matter aggressively,” Ladd said. “He returned to the scene just this past Tuesday to conduct a supplemental investigation.”
All three individuals are currently facing charges for child abuse. After the final reports are submitted there is a possibility that those charges could be amended to some form of homicide should the evidence indicate a connection between the abuse and the child’s cause of death. Oklahoma state law considers both the physical abuse of a child and failing to protect a child living in one’s home from physical abuse as “child abuse.”
The victim's mother, Kyla Burgess, was surrounded by family and friends for support on the day of the conference. As Burgess entered the courthouse, the others stood outside holding signs reading “Justice for James," and wearing blue ribbons representing child abuse awareness and prevention.
Burgess’ seven-year-old daughter, Karmen, was dressed in all blue clothing, not only representing the cause, but signifying her baby brother's favorite color. Karmen said she and her brother shared many special memories together and she designed a sign for him reading “James has a new friend, his name is God.”
“She asked me if we could do a birthday party for him,” Burgess said. “My daughter, from the moment I found out that I was pregnant, that was her baby brother and that got ripped from her, from three people she trusted.”
Burgess said she had to find out that her son had passed away from a phone call. “His dad kept him from me for a year,” Burgess said. “I got to see him for the last time on his third birthday and I begged and pleaded literally ten days before my son was murdered to see him.”
James was declared deceased at the Mercy Hospital in Healdton on July 30. Wilson police had reportedly responded to the Smiths’ residence that day in reference to a call concerning a three-year-old that had allegedly fallen out of a crib and was unresponsive.
Wilson Chief of Police Kevin Coley said the child had several severe injuries, including a head injury, lacerations on his body and bruises from head to toe. Three other children who had been living at the residence were removed by DHS.
The morning of the preliminary conference was very emotional for Burgess as she relived the tragedy of losing her son, thinking of all the birthdays and holidays that will now be spent without him. All Burgess said she is hoping for in this case is justice — not only for James, but for other children who may be in similar situations.
“He was three years old, two months and 28 days. He did not deserve this,” Burgess said. “My son is not the only one who’s had to go through this. I’m not the only parent, aunt, uncle — I’m not the only person who’s been through this. No kid deserves to be hit, beat, sexually abused, anything — they’re innocent.”
Child advocacy experts and law enforcement officials advise that individuals report anything that appears unusual or concerning, as many times children do not have a voice in the matters they are involved in. Often, police and prosecuting attorneys have to be the voice for children in potentially abusive situations.
Individuals can contact the Oklahoma Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-522-3511 or their local law enforcement agency to make a report. The Ardmore Police Department can be reached at (580) 223-1212.
“Just watch who you leave your kids with, if you have even a little bit of doubt that they’re going to hurt your baby, don’t do it,” Burgess said.
The OSBI's investigation into the Wilson incident is ongoing and another court date has been set for Oct. 8. This is a developing story. More information will be released as it becomes available.