By LIBBY CLUETT
PALO PINTO – Testimony in a criminal case involving injury to a child closed shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday evening, after defendant Willie Lee Ray Collins, 23, took the stand.
In two separate cases this week a father and mother, Collins and Amanda Rena Winters-Collins, are being tried before separate juries for the condition of their 5-month-old infant son last summer.
Initiated by a call, Precinct 2 Constable Marc Moon visited the Collins’ Kite Road travel trailer home to check on the infant boy and his older baby sister, according to testimony. This set into motion responses, on July 17, from Children’s Protective Services and Mineral Wells Emergency Medical Services, which called for air ambulance to take the baby to Cook Children’s Hospital.
Also responding were Palo Pinto County Sheriffs’ deputies and Texas Ranger Anthony Bradford, who was in the sheriff’s office at the time and who interviewed the defendant later that day. Representatives from many of these entities, including Bradford, served as witnesses for the prosecution Tuesday.
According to the CPS witness the boy has been in foster care for the months since he was released from the hospital.
Among the trial evidence, Palo Pinto County District Attorney Mike Burns showed photographs taken of the child on July 17. The photos appeared to depict a child whose individual ribs were visible, whose abdomen was distended and whose skin seemed wrinkled at the joints and had a bluish-gray hue.
Burns also showed photographs taken of the same child in early March. According to witness for the prosecution and Victims Assistance Coordinator Adena Morris, who took the more-recent photos, the child is now “a little plump” and looks “healthy,” with “fat rolls on his arms” and “fat little legs.”
“He is a very happy boy, excited to have someone play with him,” she said.
Defense attorney David Stiller asked his client what he thought when he saw the photos of his infant child – the ones taken when Child Protective Services removed the son and the recent ones from Morris’ pre-trial visit.
Collins replied by telling the eight male and four female jurors that he “first thought, ‘How did he end up like that.’ Secondly, I thought, ‘I’m so glad he’s at a position he is at [based on the recent photos].’”
Under Stiller’s questioning, Collins told jurors he primarily cared for the infant, feeding, bathing and changing diapers, until he got had a job, working from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. at a superstore in Weatherford. He said he also worked around the property, where he and his family resided in a travel trailer, which he said was owned by his father’s girlfriend.
After he started his job, in April 2012, Collins said the responsibility for feeding the infant boy shifted to his wife. He said there was enough formula for the infant and said he continued to feed his son “two to three three times a day,” “between 2-8 p.m., every day” and about “4-to-5 ounces” of soy formula per feeding.
Collins said he had one day off each week, on Thursdays, and that “most of my time was consumed by trying to make money to keep them alive.”
“I just didn’t know what was going on,” the defendant said. “I’m not a monster, I love my children with all my heart, as I said I wish I could have switched roles [with them]. In my awareness, everything was all right.”
Referring to the period after he started his job, Collins told jurors “I never saw him in just a diaper,” and added, “He was healthier when I took care of him.”
“According to you, we’ve made a mistake,” Burns said when it was his turn to question Collins.
“Partially, yes,” Collins replied.
“So, we’re wrong?” Burns asked.
“Nobody’s wrong,” Collins said, adding, “It’s my fault because I was ignorant.”
“The story is you just thought he was being cared for because you weren’t there?” Burns asked Collins.
“Yes sir,” he replied.
Collins had previously told jurors that he and his wife took their son to a local doctor’s office in July, but left when told the doctor had no immediate openings. When Burns asked him why he didn’t then take his son to the emergency room across the street – indicating Palo Pinto General Hospital – Collins said, “It didn’t cross my mind.”
Burns asked when he laid in front of Collins photos of his infant son from July, “Did you look at him on July 17?”
“Yes,” Collins replied.
“Where’s the meat on his bones?” Burns asked.
“There is no question your son sustained injury,” he said to the defendant.
Collins replied, “He was close to death, that’s what they tell me.”
Burns showed jurors a report from doctors who treated the child at Cook Children’s Hospital. The report attributed the infant’s condition to “nutritional deprivation.”
“Doctors said he had a 27 blood sugar level and was at substantial risk of going into seizures and dying.” Burns said to Collins. “You want us to believe, ‘I didn’t know that’?”
Burns concluded his cross examination by asking Collins to read from a sworn testimony, which the district attorney said Collins and his wife signed before former District Judge Jerry Ray last fall.
Collins read from the 2012 document, “We understand we are guilty of medical neglect.”
“I guess that says it all, Willie,” Burns said before passing on Collins as a witness.
Closing arguments will continue this morning, before the jury deliberates on the injury to a child case.
A second trial against Amanda Rena Winters-Collins, the child’s mother, will begin after this trial concludes.