The Supreme Court of Georgia has unanimously upheld the murder and child abuse convictions of a Fulton County man for abusing, and eventually killing, his girlfriend’s 9-month-old baby girl, Masiah Copeland. The man’s mother and girlfriend were also convicted of child abuse for failing to get medical help for the baby, who by the time she died had old and new injuries, including fractures in each of her arms and legs, blunt force trauma to her head, which caused her brain and eye to bleed, and a laceration to her lip and gum, consistent with someone striking the baby in the face or her face striking an object.
According to the facts of the case, Masiah’s mother, Cella Copeland, moved in with Otis Lee Bennett & his Mama when she was three months pregnant with Masiah. Although she later moved out of the Bennett home, she returned when Masiah was 6 months old, then again left and returned when the baby was 8 months old.
Bennett would become irritated when the baby didn’t sleep at night and stayed awake playing. One night when Masiah remained awake, he said, “She’s defective. We should put her in a bag with some rocks and just throw her in the river.” Copeland said that about a month before Masiah’s death, Bennett had roughly laid the baby on her back, held her arms down with his leg and turned her head to administer medicine for the baby’s ear infection. The day before the baby’s death, Copeland asked Bennett why Masiah’s arm was swollen, and he replied, “It’s probably just sprung.” Copeland began to notice that the baby screamed whenever Bennett got near her. Copeland was going to call 911 because of the baby’s arm, but Bennett’s mother and brother told her not to. They said if she called 911, the police would come, lock them all up, and take the children. Instead, Hetty Bennett gave the baby some Children’s Tylenol and put something on her arm to ease the pain.
The next day, Bennett took Masiah to feed her so Copeland, who was not feeling well, could rest. He then put the child down for a nap while Copeland went into another room to sleep. At some point, after Hetty Bennett came home, and Copeland got up from her nap, someone discovered Masiah was not breathing and called 911. When emergency personnel arrived at the home, the infant was limp, had no pulse and her right eye was bloodshot. Bennett told a paramedic that 30 minutes earlier, the baby had been fine. Both Copeland and Bennett told a detective she had an “asthma condition.” Emergency personnel tried to resuscitate Masiah, but they were unsuccessful, and they transported her to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. When Copeland asked Bennett if he was coming to the hospital, he said he was going to first smoke marijuana.
A medical examiner testified that the autopsy revealed Masiah had two broken legs, two broken arms, a number of contusions over her eyebrows and behind her right ear, a number of hemorrhages in her scalp, a subdural hemorrhage in her brain, a hemorrhage in her right eye, and contusions to her lower back, the right side of her chest, and on the bridge of her nose. The fractures to her right arm had occurred within the week of her death, while the fracture to her left arm was one to three weeks old. The fractures to her legs were in the healing stage and had also likely occurred many days before her death. The medical examiner concluded that the cause of Masiah’s death was blunt force injuries to her head and extremities, with the bleeding in her brain causing her organs to shut down and stop her breathing.
In his appeal before the Georgia Supreme Court, Bennett argued that the evidence was insufficient to convict him because it did not exclude the reasonable hypothesis that Copeland had committed the crimes. He claimed that Copeland never cared for the baby and had been abusing and neglecting Masiah long before she moved in with him and his mother. Furthermore, all the evidence against him came from Copeland, he argued.
SUMMARIES OF OPINIONS Published Monday, August 28, 2017 Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Public Information Office for the