ST. LOUIS • A man has been charged with murder in the death of his toddler stepdaughter, saying he beat the girl for climbing on a counter and "stealing" a piece of cake.
Deonte L. Evans, 23, of the 1400 block of Rowan Avenue, was charged Tuesday with second-degree murder, child abuse, and armed criminal action for the death of the girl, Jabria Phillips, who was 23 months old. She died Tuesday morning of blunt force trauma.
Evans' wife and the girls' mother, Shanika M. Evans, 23, was charged with first-degree child endangerment. Court documents say she knew Evans had hit the baby but didn't do anything to tell medical authorities until early the next day when she was rushed to a hospital.
Police were called to the girl's home in the 1400 block of Rowan Avenue at about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday for a "sick case."
Police were told that the girl appeared lifeless and had been showing signs of illness the day and night before, police say.
Jabria was taken to St. Louis Children's Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
According to court documents, Deonte Evans told police he hit the girl after she took the cake, and most of the blows he gave were to her torso. An autopsy showed that the fatal blows were to the girl's torso, which caused multiple injuries to her internal organs.
The autopsy also showed the girl had healing fractures to about seven ribs and the fractures appeared to be about two or three weeks old. Deonte Evans told police that two or three weeks ago he hit the girl with one “swift and powerful” open hand to the torso, court documents say.
Deonte Evans' criminal history includes 2009 charges for second-degree assault and resisting arrest.
Melvia Whitfield, 69, who lives four doors from the parents, was horrified after learning of the child's death.
"It broke my heart," she said sadly. "She was a cute little ole baby."
Whitfield said the father appeared to be a "nice young man" who often spoke to her.
"I never would have thought he would have done anything like that," she said. "It's so unfortunate."
Maria Maxwell, 77, who also lives on Rowan Avenue, didn't know the family but expressed compassion for the baby girl.
"It broke my heart," she said when she heard what happened in her neighborhood. All she could think about was the reason he gave to beat the baby girl.
"He said she stole a piece of cake," she said. " A baby doesn't know anything about stealing. That is really sick."