A man held his girlfriend’s 18-month-old girl against his lap and repeatedly punched her, tossed her into her crib like a basketball and pressed her face down on the crib's pad.
Police found Kaylee Kipp's body hours after she had died and arrested the couple who were both given life sentences, according to federal officials. But Stephen Clark West attempted to have his conviction overturned and on Tuesday the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously upheld the conviction and life sentence against the man for killing the child and also abusing her two siblings.
West was convicted in August 2012 of murder, aggravated assault, and first-degree cruelty to children for killing Kaylee, and severely abusing her 7-year-old and 4-year-old sisters, according to court documents.
The children’s mother, Deanna Renee Kipp was convicted in November 2012 of felony murder and child cruelty and sentenced to life plus 35 years in prison.
On June 12, 2011, emergency responders found Kaylee’s body in her “Pack ‘n Play” crib at the Gainesville apartment that her then 24-year-old mother shared with West, who was 22, federal court documents show. Kaylee had been dead for hours and rigor mortis had set in.
“The medical examiner determined that skin lesions at the toddler’s diaper line were most likely caused by postmortem insect activity,” the court documents show.
According to the medical examiner, Kaylee was punched with a closed fist at least six times in her head and face and the pooling of blood at the front of her body was consistent with being pressed face down against the pad of her crib.
“The medical examiner concluded that multiple injuries caused Kaylee’s brain to undergo severe swelling and that the little girl died not only as a result of blunt force trauma to her head but also as a result of asphyxiation caused by having her face pressed down into the bottom of her “’Pack ‘n Play,’” the court records show.
Kaylee’s sisters were taken to the Edmundson-Telford Center for Children for physical examinations and forensic interviews. The older child testified at West’s trial that he spanked the girls with a belt most nights, pinched them and pulled them by their hair. She described one incident when he not only spanked her but shoved her face into a pillow so she could not breathe.
The girls were placed in a temporary foster home where they told the foster mother that the night before Kaylee’s body was found, West had spanked them, prosecutors said. One of the girls told the foster mother that also that night, she had heard Kaylee crying and being spanked downstairs.
She said that her mother made her go check on Kaylee the next morning and she found her baby sister cold to the touch, the court records show. She later told another foster mother that Kaylee was thrown into her crib “like a basketball.”
Kaylee’s blood and saliva were found on a pair of denim shorts found in the master bedroom that evidence later showed belonged to West. The location of Kaylee’s blood and saliva on the shorts suggested West was holding her against his lap while punching her.
Kipp admitted to an investigator that she had seen West spank her children with significant force, put his hands over their mouths, and force Kaylee’s face into the pad of her crib, the court records show.
In his appeal, West argued the evidence was insufficient to convict him. But in Tuesday’s opinion, written by Chief Justice Hugh Thompson, the high court has rejected his argument.
“The evidence was sufficient to enable any rational trier of fact to find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of malice murder and cruelty to children,” the opinion says.