The Georgia Bureau of Investigations’ deputy chief medical examiner said she is certain 10-week-old Justin Carl Marshall, II died from blunt-force trauma on Nov. 5, 2014, and the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department narrowed the suspects down to the victim’s father, Justin Carl Marshall, but a jury on Thursday declared the Fayette County man “not guilty” on all but a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge.
Justin Marshall was released from the Fayette County Jail later Thursday after being detained there since the day his son died at their home just outside Fayetteville.
According to testimony during the trial, which began Monday in the courtroom of Fayette County Superior Court Judge Fletcher Sams, Justin Marshall and his wife Tabitha and their two children, a two-year-old and a 10-week-old, were living in one upstairs bedroom in her grandparents’ house back in 2014. On that Nov. 5 Wednesday, Justin was alone looking after their baby while Tabitha was out buying marijuana to help them come down from a methamphetamine high. Lab reports submitted as evidence in the trial showed that both of them had meth still in their systems just after the baby was found dead, the amounts lining up with Tabitha’s testimony that Justin had last used meth just the day before while she had last used it a day or two before that.
Corporal Brennan Kersey with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office said on the witness stand that he was one of the first deputies on the scene the day the baby died. He said he heard Justin make a phone call telling someone that he noticed the baby, who he thought was simply sleeping, was cold to the touch, but he decided to lay back down on the bed next to the baby’s crib and take a nap. It was later, Justin said on the phone, that he woke back up to check on the baby, and he discovered the baby was still cold to the touch, so he had Tabitha call 911.
When the call went out over the dispatch radio, a Fayette County paramedic and EMT were in their ambulance at nearby Piedmont Fayette Hospital, and they went back in service and were the first emergency personnel to arrive on the scene. EMT John Sellers testified that the lifeless baby showed signs of physical abuse before they began procedures in the ambulance to revive him. The baby was pronounced dead at the hospital after emergency room doctors and nurses also tried to bring him back to life.
During a video-recorded sheriff’s office interview, Justin told a detective he was the last person to see his son alive.
Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jacqueline Martin with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, who personally performed the baby’s autopsy, said he “died of blunt traumatic injury to the head”. During her testimony, several autopsy photos were shown to the jury, including some that revealed large amounts of blood on the baby’s brain and around his ribcage. She said the baby did not appear to suffer from any diseases or genetic abnormalities.
Assistant District Attorney Warren Sellers argued that Justin needed the marijuana that was on its way, because he was coming down from a meth high, which would have made Justin agitated and irritable and prone to lose his temper dealing with the baby. He pointed out that Justin admitted in the video interview that he would sometimes kick the baby’s crib to get a reaction from him.
“Having to change that last diaper triggered him,” Sellers said. He also noted that the evidence pointed to Tabitha never being alone with the baby that day.
Granims said during his closing arguments that the investigation by the sheriff’s office “wasn’t really much of an investigation at all”, and he suggested a more thorough investigation might have revealed clues linking the baby’s death to someone other than his client.
The case was handed to the jury late Wednesday afternoon, and after selecting a foreman they wrapped up and reconvened Thursday morning. Just before 1 p.m. Thursday, the jury returned with “not guilty” verdicts on Justin’s charges of Malice Murder, Felony Murder, Aggravated Assault and Cruelty to Children. They found him guilty of misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana.
Judge Sams sentenced Justin to 12 months to serve for the marijuana charge, but he was given credit for time already served in custody. Justin was released from jail later Thursday.