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Hinesville mans murder conviction, life term upheld
Travis Williams

A Hinesville father convicted of killing his baby daughter had his murder conviction and life sentence upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court, according to a summary provided by the high court.

Travis Williams, 35, appealed his convictions for the death of his 7-month-old daughter, Syikiria Williams, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to convict him.

But in an opinion released Tuesday, Justice Robert Benham writes for a unanimous court that, “The evidence was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find Appellant (Williams) guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of felony murder and the other crimes for which he was convicted.”

According to briefs filed in the case, Williams lived in a mobile-home park in Hinesville with his girlfriend and the baby’s mother, Casey Nicole Shuman, and two other children, ages 7 and 4.

Syikiria was born almost four months premature and had apnea and bradycardia, which periodically caused her to stop breathing and her heart to stop. She came home from the hospital with a heart monitor, although her parents did not consistently use it on the baby as instructed.

When Williams lost his job, Shuman started working at night as a cab driver and sleeping during the day. Williams maintained the household andtook care of the children.

On Sept. 27, 2008, Shuman got off work at about 5 a.m., returned to the trailer and went to sleep, according to briefs filed in the case. When she saw Syikiria that morning, the baby seemed fine. Shuman later got up, asked Williams if the children had eaten, and hearing they had not, began to cook some butter beans on the stove. But she fell asleep and the beans burned.

The couple argued over the burned food, and Shuman left. When she later returned, she checked on Syikiria. Shuman noticed the baby was lying in her bassinet in a peculiar position and that her toe, which Williams said had previously been burned while he was bathing her, was bleeding. When she picked the baby up, the infant was unresponsive, and her eyes were off to the side. Shuman told Williams something was wrong and they should take the baby to the hospital. According to prosecutors, Williams objected, but after a lengthy delay, Shuman took Syikiria to a local hospital.

That day, she was airlifted to the Memorial University Medical Center trauma center in Savannah. Two days later, Syikiria was pronounced dead after two separate tests performed 24 hours apart revealed the child had no brain functions.

Dr. James Downs, a medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, conducted the autopsy and found bruises and abrasions, including some healing injuries and older scars across the baby’s body. Her burned toe suggested her foot had been immersed in hot water. Neither parent had gotten help for her toe. The baby had three skull fractures, and there were seven different sites on her skull with fresh scalp blood. Subdural blood was found in the back of her brain and between its hemispheres.

Downs further found bruising and swelling of the baby’s brain, hemorrhages inside her right eyeball, and fresh blood in her spinal cord. Her leg was broken, and he saw no evidence that any treatment had been administered; the injury looked like it had been there for a while. The medical examiner concluded that the spiral fracture of her leg had been caused by pulling and twisting the leg with significant force. The baby had crescent-shaped scabs on her chin consistent with an adult’s fingernail being gouged into her skin.

The medical examiner concluded the baby had been the victim of battered child syndrome and her death was caused by blunt force trauma.
Both Williams and Shuman were charged in the baby’s death, but Shuman pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the state against Williams at his trial. Shuman was sentenced to five years in prison followed by five years of probation on three counts of cruelty to children and two counts of deprivation of a minor.

In July 2010, a jury convicted Williams of felony murder, aggravated assault, cruelty to children and deprivation of a minor. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Williams then appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing not only that the evidence against him was insufficient to prove guilt, but also that the trial judge gave an improper instruction to jurors about the crime of criminal negligence.

In Tuesday’s opinion, however, the high court rejected both of Williams’ arguments.

“Judgment affirmed,” the opinion concludes. “All the Justices concur.”

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