A convicted sex offender who was initially charged with killing a 4-year-old boy in 2009 pleaded guilty today to felony child abuse
, and prosecutors dropped the murder charge because they could not prove that his actions led to the child’s death
James Columbus Morrison Jr., 39, of 230 Fieldcreek Court, in Winston-Salem, pleaded guilty in Forsyth Superior Court to felony child abuse resulting in serious physical injury in connection to Emerson Isiah Cardona. No sexual abuse was alleged. The child was not Morrison’s biological child. The child’s mother had given custody of Emerson to Morrison’s fiancé, Debralee Matthews, though there was no legal transaction.
Emerson died at about 3 a.m. Oct. 18, 2009 from blunt force trauma to the head. Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster said Morrison admitted to beating the child with a coat hanger on the morning of Oct. 17, 2009, but those injuries would not have led to the child’s death. And the child didn’t show any symptoms of severe head injury throughout the day.
Then about 3:30 p.m. that day, Morrison was outside the couple’s house with several other people. Matthews and Emerson had gone inside, and a few minutes later, Matthews called out to Morrison, Foster said. The boy complained that he had hit his head and then started losing consciousness.
Morrison called an ambulance to take the child to the emergency room at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Foster and Rabil consulted with Dr. Donald Jason, Forsyth County’s medical examiner, and medical experts that Rabil hired. Jason and the experts concluded that Morrison beating the child with the coat hanger would not have caused the child’s death. What caused the child’s death, they said, was a head injury that the child suffered that afternoon, when Morrison was not in the house.
Foster said that Jason had been on the fence about how to rule the death but ultimately determined that the death was a homicide partly because investigators told him that Morrison had confessed to killing Emerson. That wasn’t true, however, Foster said in court.
As a result, Foster agreed to drop the first-degree murder charge against Morrison.
Judge Gary Gavenus of Forsyth Superior Court sentenced Morrison to 34 months to 50 months in prison