ABINGTON >> The mother of a 4-year-old boy who died following a beating in January and her boyfriend will be tried for first-degree murder.
District Judge John Kessler upheld charges of first- and third-degree murder and conspiracy against Lisa Smith, 19, and Keiff King, 26, of the 1800 block of Lukens Avenue in the Willow Grove section of Abington, following a brief preliminary hearing May 11.
Charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault, conspiracy and endangering the welfare of a child lodged against the couple had been held for trial by Kessler at a March 2 preliminary hearing. The attempted homicide charge against the couple was upgraded in April to first- and third-degree murder after the coroner ruled the child’s death a homicide.
Both are being held without bail at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility.
Smith’s son, Tahjir Smith, was pronounced dead at Abington Memorial Hospital the evening of Jan. 22, following a day of punishment over spilling his cereal, according to the criminal complaint. The boy was forced to maintain a pushup position, struck in the back of the head, beaten with a sandal and placed under hot water in a shower, the complaint says.
Smith, who is pregnant with King’s child, and Tahjir often stayed at King’s Willow Grove home and were there the day of the boy’s death.
At the time of the first hearing, forensic pathologist Dr. Ian Hood, who performed an autopsy on the boy, was awaiting further test results before making a determination regarding the manner of death.
On March 30, Hood issued a report that Tahjir died from multiple blunt injuries, thermal injuries and shock and listed the manner of death as homicide, according to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.
Smith’s attorney, Carrie Lynn Allman, argued at the May 11 hearing that Smith “should not be held on the homicide charge.”
In statements made by Smith and King, which were submitted into evidence at the first hearing, “King admitted to hitting the child in the head,” Allman said. The coroner’s report cites blunt force trauma and head injuries, she said.
“Ultimately, then, the cause of death, I believe, is attributed to King,” Allman said.
“There is evidence of Smith’s guilt in this,” Assistant District Attorney Lauren Heron countered. In Smith’s statement, “she admits causing strikes to Tahjir’s buttocks.”
“Dr. Hood’s autopsy report lists the cause of death as multiple blunt and thermal injuries and shock,” Heron said. Citing another case, in which a number of injuries resulted in death, she said the coroner “couldn’t testify as to one injury being the cause of death.”
“Here there were multiple injuries that Smith committed herself or in concert with King,” Heron said. “King caused the strikes to the head, but Hood says there was no underlying injury to the skull,” and also lists “internal injuries from strikes to the buttocks.”
“Strikes to the head is inaccurate as the cause of death,” she argued.
Following a brief recess to review the autopsy report, which both Allman and David Moscow, who was representing King at the hearing, stipulated to — agreed not to argue — as well as to the testimony at the previous hearing, Kessler upheld the homicide charges against both Smith and King.
“I believe there is sufficient evidence to hold a prima facie case against Smith,” the judge said.
Noting the coroner’s findings include thermal shock and blunt force injuries contributing to the child’s death, Kessler said, “She [Smith] did hit the child with a sandal and then handed it to King.”
Formal arraignment was scheduled for July 5.