(Updated 12:31 p.m., Nov. 20 with comment from the boy’s father)
ANN ARBOR, MI – An Ypsilanti Township mother has been convicted of abuse that caused irreversible brain damage to her 3-year-old son.
Rhianna Nichole Bryant, 37, was convicted Thursday, Nov. 19, on two felony counts of second-degree child abuse at the conclusion of a bench trial before Washtenaw County Trial Judge David Swartz.
Bryant was originally facing two felony counts of first-degree child abuse for severely injuring her young son, who doctors said now needs 24-hour care and will never fully recover from his injuries.
Mom accused of fracturing 3-year-old’s skull charged with abuse
Bryant was convicted on the lesser second-degree charge after the evidence presented at trial showed that though her actions were reckless and caused the severe injuries, she didn’t do them with the direct intent to harm to the boy, Swartz said.
The boy’s father, David Frazier, was glad to see Bryant was convicted at the bench trial, though he feels the reduced charges are woefully inadequate for what she did to his son.
“She will get three to six years in prison for doing something that gave my son a life sentence, shortening his lifespan,” he said. “I’m disgusted in the system right now.”
Witnesses at the trial testified that on the morning of Dec. 18, 2019, they heard a loud thud followed by the sound of the 3-year-old crying in the Ypsilanti Township apartment.
Bryant’s eldest son, 17, spoke with the boy and said he told him “mommy threw me over the gate,” referring to a baby gate on a concrete floor, which contributed to the boy’s injuries.
The boy went to sleep at about noon, stayed asleep in his bedroom throughout the day and into the next morning, witnesses said, adding that Bryant never attempted to wake him to see if he was OK and only peeked at him through the doorway.
Bryant, however, noticed something was wrong when the boy didn’t wake up with his baby sister and went to check on him, finding him now lying cold and motionless of the floor, according to testimony.
She called 911 and the boy was taken first to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital then transferred to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.
Doctors determined the boy suffered head trauma causing his brain to bleed which built pressure inside his skull, eventually causing irreversible brain damage.
Investigators searched Bryant’s home and found it in an uninhabitable state with trash and rotting food scattered throughout, Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office Det. Thomas Sinks said.
“It was a deplorable apartment,” Sinks said. “The stench and odor was enough to make my colleagues gag. It was like deep decomposition.”
Taking the witness stand in her own defense, Bryant admitted to the state of the home, adding she had been struggling with substance abuse issues, particularly in using crack cocaine. But she denied throwing the boy over the gate and offered a different explanation, stating he was in the shower alone with his 18-month old sister and slipped after she threw a toy at him.
The tub fall story, which Bryant admitted she didn’t recall until she was already arrested and in jail, had never been brought up or discussed until she testified at her trial.
Swartz, citing a recording of Bryant’s interview with police before her arrest, called the tub theory an outright lie as she was given every opportunity to explain what might have caused the boy’s head injury but the fall was never mentioned until trial.
“I find her story of leaving an 18-month old and a 3-year-old unattended together in a shower unbelievable. People don’t do that,” Swartz said. “She was also repeatedly asked if she could think of anything that may have caused this injury, never once did she say anything about the tub fall that absolutely did not happen.”
After being found guilty, Bryant was remanded to the Washtenaw County Jail to await sentencing scheduled for Dec. 28.
She faces up to 10 years in prison.
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