NORRISTOWN — The lawyer for a Hatfield man accused of fatally beating and strangling his live-in girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter in October 2016 wants a judge to prohibit prosecutors from presenting what he says are “inflammatory” autopsy photographs of the child to jurors.
“It is nearly impossible to fathom evidence more prejudicial than photographs of a dead child. The photographs are, in and of themselves, inflammatory,” defense lawyer Matthew W. Quigg wrote in court papers filed on behalf of accused killer Marquis Lamont Thomas. “Moreover, the need of these photographs fails to clearly outweigh the undeniable likelihood that they will inflame the passions of the jurors against Mr. Thomas.”
Quigg asked Montgomery County Judge Risa Vetri Ferman to preclude prosecutors from using the photographs at trial, or in the alternative, require that the photos be published to jurors “in black and white and with redactions to limit the prejudicial impact.”
“The photographs are so inflammatory and so gut-wrenching and heart-wrenching that jurors are invariably just going to look for somebody to blame and it’s going to lead them to wanting to seek revenge as opposed to justice and that’s our fear,” Quigg added during a recent interview.
The lawyer for Marquis Thomas, a #Hatfield man accused of fatally beating & strangling his girlfriend’s 4 yo daughter in October 2016 wants a #MontcoPa judge to prohibit prosecutors from presenting what he says are “inflammatory” autopsy photographs of the child to jurors.— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) March 25, 2020
Attached to his motion, Quigg included copies of news articles that recounted jurors’ reactions to seeing images of homicide victims during other trials in the county. One 2014 article published during the trial of convicted Upper Merion killer Raghunandan Yandamuri reported jurors wept openly and pleaded with the judge for a break after viewing a photo of a murdered 10-month-old girl.
It’s unclear if Ferman will hold a pretrial hearing on the request.
Jury selection for Thomas’ trial was to begin this week but the trial has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak in the county. It’s unclear when Ferman will hold a hearing on Quigg’s pretrial request, given that county courts are closed until further notice.
Earlier this month, county President Judge Thomas M. DelRicci signed an emergency declaration order halting all jury trials. The courthouse is open only for emergency matters and access to the courthouse is limited to individuals who are filing an emergency matter or who are appearing for a scheduled emergency matter.
“It is nearly impossible to fathom evidence more prejudicial than photographs of a dead child. The photographs are, in and of themselves, inflammatory,” defense lawyer Matthew W. Quigg wrote in #MontcoPa #court papers filed on behalf of accused killer Marquis L. Thomas.Thomas pic.twitter.com/xFVF9RZAH4— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) March 25, 2020
On Monday, Governor Tom Wolf also issued a stay-at-home order for county residents to combat the spread of COVID-19. While the order is effective through April 6, officials said it will be re-evaluated and may be extended. The duration of the public health emergency is uncertain.
Thomas, 33, of the 1300 block of Needham Circle, faces life imprisonment if convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the alleged Oct. 18, 2016, death of 4-year-old Kailee Bunrout, who was the daughter of Thomas’ girlfriend.
Thomas also faces charges of third-degree murder, endangering the welfare of a child, aggravated and simple assault and unlawful restraint in connection with the alleged crimes against the child. A conviction of third-degree murder, a killing committed with malice, carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years in prison.
“Moreover, the need of these photographs fails to clearly outweigh the undeniable likelihood that they will inflame the passions of the jurors against Mr. Thomas, ”defense lawyer Matthew W. Quigg wrote in #MontcoPa court papers filed on behalf of accused killer Marquis Thomas.— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) March 25, 2020
Additionally, Thomas faces charges of criminal attempt at murder, endangering the welfare of a child, strangulation, aggravated and simple assault and unlawful restraint in connection with the alleged physical abuse suffered by Kailee’s 8-year-old brother in September 2018.
First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr. and co-prosecutor Brianna Ringwood are handling the case.
Thomas has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Quigg has not revealed any potential defense strategies.
Thomas is being held in the county jail without bail pending trial.
While the cause and manner of Kailee’s death originally was listed as “undetermined,” investigators took another look at the case when the little girl’s brother was treated at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on Sept. 15, 2018, for alleged child abuse injuries, court papers indicate.
“The photographs are so inflammatory & so gut-wrenching...that jurors are invariably just going to look for somebody to blame & it’s going to lead them to wanting to seek revenge as opposed to justice & that’s our fear,” Defense lawyer Matthew Quigg #MarquisThomasCase#MontcoPa pic.twitter.com/4Ls5vSWyWS— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) March 25, 2020
“When the boy was taken to CHOP by his mother with similar injuries as Kailee’s, it raised a red flag with medical personnel and with detectives, leading to the reopening of the investigation,” county District Attorney Kevin R. Steele previously explained.
Thomas initially was arrested on March 9 on charges related to the alleged physical abuse of the 8-year-old boy and failed to post $500,000 cash bail and has been in jail since that time.
The investigation of Kailee’s death began about 7:51 a.m. Oct. 18, 2016, when Towamencin police responded to a residence at Forge Gate Apartments on Snyder Road for a report of an unresponsive 4-year-old girl. Upon arrival, police were directed to a bedroom by the child’s mother and there they observed Thomas performing CPR on Kailee, according to the criminal complaint filed by county Detective Gregory Henry and Towamencin Detective Patrick Horne.
The little girl was later pronounced dead at Abington Health Lansdale Hospital at 8:33 a.m., according to court papers. Court documents indicate authorities noticed bruising on the little girl’s torso.
Jury selection for Marquis Thomas’ #MontcoPa trial was to begin this week but the #trial has been postponed due to the #coronavirus outbreak in the county. The courthouse is closed and all jury trials have been halted.Stay connected here for the latest developmentsThomas pic.twitter.com/S24inTXOD1— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) March 25, 2020
During an investigation, Kailee’s mother told detectives that she did not observe any bruising or other injuries on the child when she bathed her and put her to bed the night before, Oct. 17. The woman told detectives she went to work at 3:50 a.m. Oct. 18, and around 8 a.m. she received a text message from Thomas indicating Kailee “won’t wake up,” according to the criminal complaint.
When Kailee’s mother arrived home she tried to awaken the child and then called 911 after learning Thomas had not called to request assistance, according to the arrest affidavit. The woman noticed Kailee’s skin was cold and she described “red saliva” on the little girl’s shirt and bed.
At the request of a 911 dispatcher, Thomas began performing chest compressions on the little girl until police and emergency medical officials arrived.
When Thomas was interviewed he told detectives he awoke about 7:44 a.m. and went to Kailee’s room and she would not wake so he sat on the bed and tried to wake her by “shaking her shoulder,” according to the arrest affidavit. Thomas allegedly told detectives he noticed Kailee’s skin was cold.
Thomas claimed he observed bruising on Kailee when his girlfriend was changing the child for bed on Oct. 17, according to the arrest affidavit.
A review of Kailee’s medical history revealed that on Sept. 4, 2016, she was evaluated at CHOP by doctors who identified hemorrhages in both eyes, a bruise below her left eye, injuries to her tongue consistent with bite marks, two healing rib fractures and multiple scars on her torso, according to the criminal complaint.
An Oct. 19, 2016, autopsy by the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office identified contusions, abrasions and scars of the skin, a hemorrhage of the right eye, soft tissue hemorrhage in the neck, lacerations of the heart and liver and hemorrhages of the stomach and urinary bladder, according to court documents.
The cause and manner of Kailee’s death, at that time, was listed as “undetermined.”
On Sept. 15, 2018, Kailee’s brother was admitted to CHOP and an examination identified hemorrhages in both eyes and bruising under his right eye and an evaluation identified no underlying medical or accidental cause to explain the boy’s condition, according to the criminal complaint.
Doctors opined the boy’s injuries were “consistent with inflicted trauma/child physical abuse.” At the time, the little boy was living with his mother and Thomas in Hatfield. Thomas and the victims’ mother also share a younger daughter, court papers indicate.
In February 2019, authorities interviewed the 8-year-old boy and he disclosed that Thomas “choked” him on multiple occasions. At that time, the little boy also disclosed that on the night before Kailee’s death he observed Kailee walking to the bathroom with Thomas and that the little girl was crying, according to the arrest affidavit.
Detectives reopened the investigation of Kailee’s death and on June 19 a doctor who reviewed the 2016 autopsy and other materials concluded Kailee “died as a result of blunt impact trauma and strangulation” and listed the manner of death as homicide.
Detectives concluded that Thomas “had care, custody and control” of Kailee immediately prior to when she was found dead.
“The injuries she sustained at that time are consistent with inflicted trauma, specifically, blunt force trauma and strangulation,” Henry and Horne wrote in the arrest affidavit.
Detectives further alleged that when Thomas did not call for medical assistance for the girl on Oct. 18, instead advising his girlfriend in a text that Kailee was unresponsive, suggested that “this inaction was an attempt by Thomas to distance himself from the event and evade answering prompt questions by a 911 operator.”