PALO PINTO – Two-year-old Buck McCoy Jr. had many unexplained injuries when he was reported to have choked on food and became unresponsive.
That is what law enforcement and emergency personnel testified to Wednesday in Chester Marion Bell IV's capital murder trial concerning the day of March 11, 2009.
Bell pleaded not guilty to the capital murder charge, alleging he knowingly caused the death of McCoy by striking him with his hand, an unknown object or striking him against an unknown object. If convicted of capital murder, Bell will be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
According to testimony presented to Bell's seven-man, five woman jury, Bell took a healthy McCoy on a walk after the child refused to swallow his lunch. Bell later returned with the child, who had become unresponsive.
Removed from life support the following day, McCoy's death was ruled a homicide as a result of traumatic head injury by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office.
Mineral Wells Fire Chief Robin Allen said the boy had no heartbeat, was not breathing and was having CPR performed by his mother when they arrived at Bell's residence in the 16000 block of State Highway 254 around 1:30 p.m. that day.
“He was in very bad shape,” Allen said.
Allen said she asked about a circular abrasion that was oozing blood on the boy's throat and appeared to be fresh.
“She [the mother] said he did not have it when he went to the barn,” Allen said.
Neither Bell nor the mother could account for the wound so she did not ask about his other visible injuries, according to Allen.
Pictures were presented to the jury showing multiple bruises and abrasions across the boy's abdomen, throat and head.
Because law enforcement did not respond to the EMS call about a choking child, Palo Pinto County Sheriff's Office investigator Capt. Craig Goen said he became involved in the case when he went to Palo Pinto General Hospital on a different matter and a doctor pulled him aside.
Goen said he was informed a nurse found anal tearing oozing blood shortly after McCoy was brought in.
“I was wondering why a choking child would be in that situation,” Goen said. “I saw bruising around his back, stomach area, his head.”
PPCSO investigator Sgt. Chad Jordan said he took a sworn statement from Bell at the hospital shortly after the incident.
According to Bell's statement read in court, Bell told Jordan the child was keeping his lunch in his cheeks rather than swallowing, so he took him for a walk rather than making him finish his lunch.
Bell told the investigator the boy fell before they arrived at the barn and Bell noticed he still had food in his mouth and couldn't speak, according to the statement.
Bell said he made McCoy spit out the food and they continued to a round pen located behind the barn.
Bell claimed he was working several feet from the boy when he heard the child gag. He said he turned around and began attempting to clear the boy's airway, according to the statement.
When he couldn't, Bell said he picked up the boy and ran back to the house, where the boy's mother began CPR. Bell said McCoy vomited while he called 911.
Bell acknowledged to Jordan he assisted in the discipline of McCoy at the boy's mother's request and had recently spanked the child, leaving a bruise.
Though law enforcement executed a search warrant at the Bell ranch that same night after dark, according to testimony, they didn't find anything of interest until they went back the next afternoon looking for the boy's John Deere cowboy boots and a toboggan hat McCoy's mother said he had been wearing.
The boots were found lying in the mud in the round pen next to the boy's hat, according to Goen.
Not far away was a fire pit, barrel and animal skulls where the defendant had reportedly been boiling hog heads, Goen said.
No other animals or other objects were noted in the area of the enclosed pen, according to testimony.
Goen said they tried to re-interview Bell at a later date but said it did not happen.
Testimony, including from the boy's mother, is expected to resume today in the 29th State District Court, with Judge Jerry Ray presiding.
Index staff writer Christin Coyne can be reached at (940) 325-4465, ext. 3428, or firstname.lastname@example.org.