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Mother Acquitted of Beating Death of Son

November 03, 1987|JANE HULSE | Times Staff Writer

A Sylmar woman was found guilty Monday of two counts of child abuse but innocent of involuntary manslaughter in the beating death of her 3-year-old son.

Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Joel Rudof returned the verdict against Deborah Meyer, 35, following a bench trial. Her son, Joey Phelps, died Dec. 18 of multiple blows to the abdomen, according to a coroner's report.

The verdict leaves open the question of who inflicted the fatal blows to the boy. During the trial, Meyer said she had no knowledge of how the boy was killed.

Charges against Meyer's former live-in boyfriend were dropped because prosecutors said they lacked sufficient evidence.

The judge declined comment on the verdict because he has yet to sentence Meyer. Sentencing is scheduled Dec. 1. She faces a maximum of 10 years and four months in prison.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Rebecca G. Omens alleged during the monthlong trial that Meyer, who worked the late shift at a Chatsworth graphics-research firm, abused the boy repeatedly during the three months before his death.

Witnesses testified they had noticed numerous bruises and scratches on the boy during those prior three months.

Meyer said her son was accident-prone and had fallen from his bicycle. She also said the boy bruised easily because of a blood disorder. There was no testimony during the trial about whether the child, in fact, suffered from such a disorder.

The child's baby sitter brought the boy to Holy Cross Hospital in Mission Hills on Dec. 15 because his genitals were bruised and discolored and he had a fever, a coroner's report states. Meyer's explanation was that the boy had been injured when a toilet seat fell on his genitals, according to the report.

Dead on Arrival

The boy was treated and released in stable condition from the hospital. He was returned home to his mother and her live-in boyfriend, Andre Steven Avila, Omens said.

On Dec. 18, Meyer and Avila drove the child back to Holy Cross Hospital where he was declared dead on arrival at 1:56 a.m., Omens said. The child had bruises on his arms, neck, head, face, back and genitals, Omens said.

Meyer's attorney, Robert Allan Zeller, said Meyer was not present when the fatal injuries were inflicted. He said there was no physical evidence to prove the child had been a victim of earlier abuse.

Zeller said Avila was home alone with the child for slightly more than an hour between midnight on Dec. 17 and just past 1 a.m. on Dec. 18. However, Avila told police that he went to the store after Meyer came home from work and that, when he returned, Meyer approached him with the lifeless toddler in her arms.

Meyer was convicted on one count of engaging in a pattern of child abuse from Sept. 13, 1986, to Dec. 17, and on one count relating to the events of Dec. 18.

But the judge did not find that Meyer had personally inflicted the fatal injuries. Omens explained that a person can be found guilty of child abuse by allowing a child to be in an abusive situation.

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