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Attempted Murder Charges in 12-Year-Old Girl's Beating

March 19, 2004|Jon Marino | Times Staff Writer

BALTIMORE — Three women and a teenager were indicted Thursday on charges of attempted murder in the beating of a 12-year-old girl after she had been kissed by a boy at a birthday party.

Nicole Ashley Townes was in a coma for almost two weeks after allegedly being attacked by Monique Baldwin, 36, and her cousin Erin Baldwin, 19, who also were charged with assault and child abuse. Monique Baldwin's 14-year-old niece, Temprest Baldwin, who also allegedly participated in the beating and was also charged with assault, will be tried as an adult, prosecutors said.

Kenya Keene, 25, the victim's caretaker, also was indicted on child abuse charges. Although she was not present when Nicole was attacked, prosecutors said she "deliberately delayed" seeking medical attention for the girl.

All four could face life in prison if convicted, prosecutors said. In addition, a 13-year-old girl has been charged in juvenile court with assault and child abuse.

Police said no decision had been made about filing charges against a 7-year-old boy who they said also took part in the attack.

Even by big-city standards, the callousness of the crime has shocked Baltimore. "The raw cruelty detailed in the documents offends, but the real outrage is the lesson to which all the children at the party were exposed," the Baltimore Sun editorialized. "The details police have collected so far are grim reminders that kids don't just invent brutality, or learn it from television or video games."

Admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital in critical condition after the Feb. 28 assault, Nicole had severe head injuries, and doctors feared brain damage because of oxygen deprivation. She regained consciousness March 11, and although she is unable to speak because of a feeding tube in her throat, she is breathing on her own and communicates with her doctors by signaling thumbs-up and thumbs-down. Her condition is listed as fair.

"There has been an outpouring of support from across the nation over the last week," said the Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, who led a prayer vigil for Nicole on Wednesday night and is coordinating fundraising efforts to cover her medical expenses. "She has a lot of well-wishers."

Nicole and her half-sister, Brenda Bailey, 11, were attending a birthday party at Monique Baldwin's home when the attack occurred. According to police, Baldwin instigated the brutal beating, instructing her niece to "handle your business" after the boy kissed Nicole on a dare. Temprest Baldwin and a 13-year-old girl then began hitting Nicole and Brenda, police said.

Brenda suffered minor cuts and bruises. Nicole, however, fared far worse.

"Nicole attempted to crawl away from the fight toward the living room, when she was kicked in the stomach by Temprest," court documents said. "Monique then stated to Temprest, 'We don't take body shots, we do the head.' Temprest then jumped on top of Nicole, began punching her in the face and grabbed her by the hair, smashing her head into the floor repeatedly."

Erin Baldwin then attacked Nicole, police said, repeatedly pulling the girl from a sofa so that her head struck the floor. When a 7-year-old boy began to punch Nicole, Monique Baldwin told the others to let him continue because he needed "to let his frustration out," the documents said. When he was finished, Baldwin began choking and violently shaking Nicole. Baldwin also ordered the windows closed and the volume of the music raised to mask the girls' screams, police said.

The assault continued until one guest noticed that Nicole was no longer moving, court papers said. Another child carried her to a couch, where Monique Baldwin tried to force her to drink water, slapped her and accused her of "faking it." When a party guest tried to call for help, Baldwin took the phone from his hands and said "No," police said.

Police reports indicate that Nicole lay unconscious and possibly not breathing for about a half-hour before her caretaker, Keene, who had left the party earlier, returned to Baldwin's home and called paramedics.

Keene became Nicole's temporary guardian after her mother relinquished care, said Baltimore Police Det. Danny Moses, and she was also Brenda's guardian. Police say that Keene struck Brenda and that she delayed seeking medical treatment for Nicole, then told paramedics that Nicole was unconscious because of a diabetic episode.

Monique, Erin and Temprest Baldwin are being held without bail at the Baltimore detention center. Keene is being held in lieu of $35,000 bail. All four will be arraigned in June.

The charges against Keene are unfair, said the Rev. Durrell Williams, pastor of Full Gospel Deliverance Church, where Nicole, Brenda and Keene often worshiped. He said he had been told that Keene was traumatized when she discovered Nicole unconscious and bleeding and had been given misinformation about Nicole's injuries, which she then relayed to paramedics.

The investigation is continuing, said Moses, and additional indictments may be sought. One question is what charges, if any, should be filed against the 7-year-old boy, Moses said.

Attempted murder charges against young children are very rare, said Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office.

"More arrests are expected," Burns said. "This is a very complex case, involving many people."

Nicole's teacher at West Baltimore Middle School, Frann Fischer, said the girl did not cause trouble in the classroom.

"She wasn't a fighter," Fischer said. "She was so quiet, so shy."

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