A 22-year-old Fresno man will stand trial in the beating death in May of his girlfriend's 4-year-old son, a judge ruled Friday in Fresno County Superior Court.
Demetris Reese will face charges of murder and assault on a child causing death in connection with the death of Michael Crawford. If convicted, he faces 25 years to life in prison.
Judge Arlan Harrell made his decision after hearing two days of testimony at Reese's preliminary hearing, during which Fresno police detective Marcus Gray Sr. testified that Michael was beaten after he wet his bed.
Gray also said the boy's mother, Jennifer Crawford, told him that she saw Reese hitting her son with a leather belt. In addition, she said Reese was alone in a room with Michael and the door was locked, Gray testified.
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But after the ruling, attorney Roger Litman, who represents Reese, said his client maintains his innocence, while Crawford, who police said is mildly mentally disabled, has given detectives conflicting statements.
"She has a motive to lie," Litman said, because county social workers could try to take her other child if she is linked to her son's death. But Gray testified that Crawford is not a suspect in her son's death.
Michael and his mother lived with Reese and his relatives in a home on South Judy Avenue near Clovis and Church avenues.
On the morning of May 17, Michael was found unresponsive inside the home. Reese's brother called 911 and emergency personnel took Michael to Community Regional Medical Center, where he died.
During the two-day hearing, prosecutor Robert Mangano called only two witnesses -- Gray and Dr. Michael Chambliss, a pathologist with the Fresno County Coroner's Office.
Gray said Crawford told him that her son wet his bed when scared or nervous. She said her son began wetting his bed once they moved into her boyfriend's home about three weeks before his death, Gray testified.
Chambliss attributed Michael's death to child abuse. The boy had several bruises on his head and body, and had a ruptured small intestine and laceration of the mesentery.
But the pathologist could not say for sure whether a man or a woman inflicted the injuries. Though the child abuse occurred over several days, Chambliss said, he couldn't say for sure when it began.