Donald Nelson and his live-in girlfriend, Moneesha Camp, will stand trial on a murder charge in connection with the beating death of Nelson’s 3-year-old son Zion, a judge ruled Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court.
Judge Arlan Harrell made his decision a day after police detectives testified that Zion, whose body was covered with scars, abrasions and bruises, died in January 2014 of fatal child abuse syndrome. The syndrome occurs when a child is beaten over a long period of time, causing his body to shut down, detective Michael Gehbart told the judge.
In this case, the detectives testified that Zion was beaten with a hanger, belt and electrical cord for soiling his underwear.
Harrell needed a day to make his ruling because Camp’s lawyer, Linden Lindahl, argued that her client shouldn’t be charged with murder since she was not the boy’s biological mother and therefore did not have a duty to protect the child.
But after reading case law on the issue, Harrell ruled Thursday that Camp was a mother figure to Zion and his 5-year-old brother. Testimony Wednesday revealed that the boys called Camp their mother, and Nelson and Camp told detectives that Camp cared for the boys by bathing them, feeding them and meeting for their needs.
Therefore, she had a duty to protect them, Harrell ruled.
In addition to murder, Nelson and Camp face a charge of assault on a child causing death. They also are charged with child abuse of the 5-year-old and for telling the 5-year-old to lie to police about what happened to Zion, prosecutor William Lacy said.
Nelson, 28, and Camp, 25, face life in prison if convicted. Their next hearing is June 8.
The case began when Fresno police officers responded to a 911 call and found Zion wearing just his underwear and wrapped in a blanket in the back seat of Nelson’s car at Palm and Garland avenues — just a few blocks from the family home on Saginaw Way.
Initially, Nelson told police he and his son were living in the car and that he spanked his son for soiling his pants during the early hours of Jan. 2, 2014, officer Ron Flowers testified.
Lacy, however, said Nelson lied to cover up what happened in the family’s apartment.
According to detective Ignacio Ruiz, the 5-year-old told police that he “heard whipping sounds. He heard Zion scream. And then it stopped.”
The boy told police he then saw saw his dad put Zion in the shower in an attempt to wake him up, Ruiz testified. When Zion didn’t wake up, the father took him out of the shower and put his lifeless body on the living room floor before leaving the apartment with him, the detective testified.
Gebhart testified that Zion’s injuries included multiple linear abrasions and bruises and hemorrhaging in his head, chest, shoulder and legs. He also had two cracked ribs and bleeding in his kidneys and pancreas, the detective said.