STANTON— Child abuse charges were dismissed Thursday against the mother of a toddler who remains on life support.
Samantha Slater and Benjamin Wilkins, both 26 and both of Greenville, were each charged with first-degree and second-degree child abuse of Slater’s 2-year-old daughter Brooklyn Weimer, who has been hospitalized in intensive care with severe abdominal and head injuries since March 24.
Judge Donald Hemingsen declined to bind Slater over to trial Thursday after hearing testimony in 64B District Court. Thursday’s testimony was a continuation of previous testimony, which was postponed when Wilkins’ sister Rebecca Carriveau passed out and had multiple seizures while testifying Tuesday.
Carriveau was living at 317 W. Grove St. in Greenville when the alleged child abuse occurred, along with Carriveau’s husband and 5-year-old son, Carriveau’s mother, Slater, Wilkins and Brooklyn.
On Tuesday, Carriveau testified that Brooklyn was watching cartoons with her mother and acting and talking normally the morning of Sunday, March 24. Carriveau left the house with her husband and son around 3 p.m. that day. She said Brooklyn, Slater and Wilkins were the only ones home.
Carriveau said she returned home between 5 and 5:30 p.m. She said Wilkins was playing video games and Slater had an ice pack on her mouth. Carriveau said she asked Slater what happened to her, but Slater didn’t answer. Carriveau said Brooklyn was acting and talking normally. Carriveau left a few minutes later.
Carriveau became visibly confused and upset Tuesday when Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause asked Carriveau whether she had ever heard Slater make a statement to the effect of how if Slater’s children ever got hurt, Slater would not take them to an emergency room because she didn’t want Child Protective Services to get involved.
The judge called a court recess Tuesday when he saw Carriveau was getting upset, immediately after which Carriveau collapsed out of the witness chair, struck her head on the judge’s bench and had multiple seizures. An ambulance was immediately called and rescue workers attended to Carriveau before transporting her to Sheridan Community Hospital.
On Thursday, Carriveau took the witness stand to resume her testimony with her mother by her side. However, Carriveau said her seizure medication had been increased since Tuesday, causing drowsiness and memory loss. She said she couldn’t recall a recent conversation with prosecutor officials, much less anything about the day Brooklyn was injured or whether Slater had ever mentioned CPS.
Stephanie Boisvert, a CPS worker for Montcalm County, also took the stand Thursday. She said she talked to Slater at DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids around 12:38 a.m. Monday, March 25, after a previous attempt at an interview had failed several hours earlier at Spectrum Health United Hospital in Greenville because Slater was “on the floor crying.” Boisvert said Slater said she didn’t know what caused Brooklyn’s head injury, abdominal injury or older bruising on the toddler’s body.
Slater’s attorney Monica Tissue-Daws argued that the prosecution didn’t present any evidence that Slater caused Brooklyn’s injuries or failed or even delayed in calling 911, even noting that Slater can be heard in the background of Wilkins’ 911 call asking when the ambulance is coming.
“My client, when whatever happened to young Brooklyn happened, was sleeping at the time,” Tissue-Daws said. “That doesn’t connect her to this case at all.”
Judge Hemingsen dismissed the first-degree and second-degree child abuse charges against Slater on Thursday, saying no evidence was presented in court that Slater was responsible for Brooklyn’s injuries or that she failed or even delayed to call 911. Hemingsen added that there did appear to be plenty of evidence against Wilkins.
“There is more than enough evidence to support probable cause that this child suffered horrendous physical harm,” Hemingsen noted. “I’m not sure why a child at the age of 2 should be punished for staring at a toy box.”
Slater was overcome with emotion when the judge said this and began quietly sobbing in the courtroom. She continued to weep as the judge went into detail about Brooklyn’s devastating injuries. Tissue-Daws held her client’s hand as the mother wept.
By “staring at a toy box,” the judge was referring to previous testimony from Dr. N. Debra Simms, a child abuse specialist who works at DeVos Children’s Hospital. Simms previously testified that Wilkins told her Brooklyn didn’t want to play with her toys on March 24 and was just staring at them so he put her in the bathroom for a timeout with her face against the wall. Wilkins told Simms he heard a noise and went to check on Brooklyn, only to find her unresponsive on the bathroom floor. Wilkins said he attempted to revive Brooklyn by placing her in a bath of cold water, but she didn’t respond. Wilkins said he then woke up Slater.
According to previous court testimony, at 9:02 p.m. March 24, Wilkins called Central Dispatch to request an ambulance for Brooklyn, who Wilkins said was unresponsive. According to court documents, Wilkins later told police that he had put Brooklyn in the bathroom for a timeout at 7:50 p.m. and later found her unresponsive. He said he had fabricated previous stories when calling a local hospital for medical advice because he did not want police or the Department of Human Services involved.
Simms also previously testified that Slater told her Brooklyn began vomiting out of her mouth and nose and was “cold, unresponsive, but fine.” Simms said she didn’t understand why a child’s mother would think a child who was cold, unresponsive and vomiting was “fine.” Simms also previously testified that Wilkins told her that Slater didn’t want him to call an ambulance at the time of Brooklyn’s injury.
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Wilkins previously waived his preliminary examination on May 7. He seemed unsure about what to do on that date and kept shaking his head to himself as the judge was asking him whether he wanted to waive his preliminary exam. After a whispered conference between Norton and Wilkins, Wilkins finally agreed to waive the preliminary exam.
“I’ll trust him,” Wilkins said of Norton, adding, “I hope you’re right about this.”
Wilkins was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday morning in 8th Judicial Circuit Court while he considers an offer from the Montcalm County Prosecutor’s Office. If he pleads guilty to second-degree child abuse and being a habitual offender second offense, the first-degree child abuse charge would be dropped and he would face up to 15 years in prison, instead of the possible life sentence he is currently facing.
However, Wilkins and his attorney parted ways Thursday morning after Norton informed Judge Suzanne Hoseth Kreeger that their working relationship was broken.
“He doesn’t believe the work that I’m doing, he doesn’t believe that I’m acting in his best interest,” Norton said of Wilkins. “In his own words, he believes I’m working for the prosecutor.”
Thomas Wilson has been assigned as Wilkins’ new attorney. Wilson already represents Wilkins in a related case in Montcalm County Juvenile Court to determine whether Slater, Wilkins and Slater’s ex-husband Brent Slater should have their parental rights terminated. That trial is scheduled to begin on May 29.
“Despite the ruling today by the District Court judge, the Montcalm County Prosecutor’s Office is still prosecuting Samantha Slater and is seeking termination of her parental rights,” Krause emphasized to The Daily News after Thursday’s court hearing.
Brooklyn’s biological father is currently in prison. Attorney Tammi Shaw of Lakeview has been court-appointed as Brooklyn’s advocate.