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(Florida Today) – During an all-day bond hearing Monday for a Titusville foster mom facing a first-degree murder charge, prosecutors accused her of beating, whipping and strangling the 4-year-old girl who was in her care for just over two months.
Lakeisha Mitchell, 41, of Titusville, also faces charges of aggravated child abuse with great bodily harm, neglect of a child and child abuse following the death of Joy King, a child she had been fostering since early June.
Joy was discovered unconscious in a bathtub in Mitchell’s home on Aug 23 and taken to the hospital in critical condition. She died Aug. 25 at Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital.
Mitchell’s attorney, Jason Wandner, said his client is a “decorated veteran” who was dealing with a child who frequently attempted to harm herself, and that prosecutors and police had jumped to conclusions about what happened. Mitchell’s mother, Sonya Mitchell Myrie, said she does not think her daughter is a danger to anyone.
“Her heart’s desire was to be a foster mom because she wasn’t a mom, and I feel like the system failed Lakeisha,” Myrie told the court. “It has left a bitter taste in my mouth about how things can go south at one very second.”
The bond hearing will continue at a later date.
On Monday, assistant state attorney Julia Lynch said the medical examiner found evidence on Joy’s body that she had been beaten, whipped across her buttocks and strangled. She presented a photo taken by Titusville police of a belt on Mitchell’s kitchen floor with a loop in it. Lynch suggested this could have been used as a weapon against Joy.
Wandner countered that this was speculation. He added that children “make markings on their bodies all the time.”
Wandner told FLORIDA TODAY after the hearing that he feels the state is ignoring major points of the case.
“This was a very troubled young girl,” he said. “And they just haven’t taken that into account.
The State Attorney’s Office presented to Judge Samuel Bookhardt III multiple recorded interviews between law enforcement, Mitchell and other witnesses. Mitchell described Joy as often throwing tantrums and “faking” that her legs were broken or that she was asleep or having seizures. She also said Joy would throw herself on the ground and hit her head.
Mitchell told investigators that placing Joy in a bathtub of water while fully clothed would “snap her out” of what she indicated were tantrums or self-injurious behavior.
During an interview played for the court, Titusville Police Detective Parker Landis said to Mitchell, “You put an unconscious child in a bath tub. What did you think was going to happen?” He said that even if Joy was “faking”, there was no excuse for doing that.
Landis told the court Monday that all individuals interviewed at the daycares and VPK programs Joy attended — Mims Elementary, Gold Star Academy and Patch Learning Center — denied witnessing any self-injurious behaviors or tantrums such as what Mitchell described.
Wandner argued many of these individuals did not know Joy well, with some having only known her a few days, saying they could not give accurate answers.
In one interview presented, Christine Cannistra, a staff member at Mims Elementary who had interacted with Joy in the days prior to her death, described her as a “sweet, shy girl.” She said she was a “vocal” child and felt that Joy would have told her if something had been wrong. She added that one thing struck her as odd — she once found a water bottle filled with soapy water in Joy’s backpack.
Because of COVID-19 guidelines, children were required to bring a water bottle to school and could not drink from water fountains, Cannistra said. When Joy arrived at school that day, Cannistra said the bottle was in the bottom of her backpack and had leaked everywhere. She said the bottle was full of “bubbly,” soapy water.
Another teacher interviewed, Shannon Ramos, said on Aug. 23, the day Joy later was found unconscious in the bathtub, she’d been quieter than normal at school and complained that her head hurt. When the teacher told Mitchell about Joy’s headache at the end of the day, Mitchell said, “That’s okay, we’re going to be taking care of it,” according to the teacher.