Jury struggles to agree in trial of murdered toddler

SHELBY, NC (WBTV) - The jury continued deliberating Thursday in the trial of a Cleveland County man accused of murdering his 2-year-old stepson.

Dwight Justice is charged with killing Jeremiah Swafford in February 2009.

After nearly four hours of deliberations, the jury told the judge they could not reach a unanimous decision and said they were split 8-4, but did not specify what their choices were.

The judge requested they continue deliberating longer and try to reach a decision.

By the end of the day, the jury had asked several questions including how the responsibility of a parent to protect their child relates to the charges in the case.

The jury can choose between first-degree murder, 2nd degree murder and/or felony child abuse and not guilty.

Jurors could not reach a decision Thursday and will return to deliberations Monday since the judge will not be available Friday.

Jeremiah's mother, Kathy Swafford, is also charged with murder.


During closing arguments Wednesday, Defense attorney Ted Cummings told jurors Jeremiah died at the hands of his own mother.

"The person that killed this beautiful young boy was Kathy Swafford, it was not David Justice," said Cummings.

Cummings says Swafford slammed Jeremiah's head into the family's couch and on the following day, beat him in the forehead with a flashlight when Justice wasn't home.

He also played the 911 call Justice made and asked the jury to carefully listen to Swafford moaning "I'm sorry" in the background.

But prosecutor Bill Young told the jury Justice is still equally guilty of murder.

"If Kathy Swafford did it, he heard and saw everything and he didn't take steps to prevent it," said Young.

He pointed out inconsistencies in Justice's statement to police.

He says Justice waited more than an hour to call 911 after Jeremiah was found unconscious by his mother.

"What was he doing? Cleaning up the blood," said Young.

Jurors also got one last look at the toddler's autopsy photos which showed bruises and scratches all over Jeremiah's face and torso.

"He failed in his duty to protect that child," said Young.

On Tuesday, Jurors heard testimony from witnesses for the defense.

The defense called Swafford to the stand.

Swafford was only on the stand for five minutes and chose not to testify and incriminate herself under the fifth amendment.

The defense also called Swafford's ex-cell mate, Jeanette Bonner, to the stand.

Bonner was subpoenaed to testify and didn't show up on time because she said she didn't want to testify against Swafford who she claims was her friend.

The judge ordered a deputy to pick her up and bring her to court.

Bonner testified that Swafford told her she would tell her what happened to Jeremiah if she promised not to tell anyone.

Swafford allegedly told Bonner she caused the injuries on the little boy's head.

"She told me she took him by his feet and shook him and hit his head against the wood part of the couch," said Bonner.

Bonner says Swafford later placed the blame on Justice when she realized she could spend life in prison.

According to Bonner, Swafford told her she saw Justice pin the toddler down and hit him in the head with a flashlight. She says she then went to sleep and woke up, took a shower and then noticed Jeremiah was "out of it".

That's when she allegedly told Justice to call 911.

Justice maintains he is innocent.

He's charged with first degree murder and felony child abuse.

Swafford's trial is scheduled for May.

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