But daughter says he often hit lad
A Philadelphia pastor accused of beating a 4-year-old boy to death used a Rip Van Winkle defense at his murder trial yesterday: he swore he had slept through the whole thing.
In the nonjury trial’s final day, Rev. Javan McBurrows, 52, former pastor of Third Christian Church in Overbrook, told Montgomery County Judge William J. Furber Jr. that he had been napping in the bedroom, 10 feet away from the bathroom where Michael Davis, a parishoner’s child placed in his care, was fatally beaten.
Last week, Jane McBurrows described seeing her husband repeatedly beat Michael with a metal-edged carpenter’s level on the night of Jan. 9, 1999.
She said her husband also had clapped his hands together hard three times on either side of the little boy’s head. He died hours later at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Dr. Ian Hood, a Philadelphia medical examiner who did the autopsy, said injuries to the boy’s brain alone could have caused death. He said that repeated beating of Michael’s arms, legs, back and buttocks had traumatized the child’s soft tissue and crushed his fat into what Hood described as bloody peanut butter.
Hood said that Michael had bled to death internally as all his body’s systems shut down.
McBurrows’ wife and one of his daughters, JaKatie, 11, described the pastor as a man who frequently hit his wife, his children and three parishioners’ children in his care with what JaKatie called “the measuring thing” (carpenter’s level), a belt, his hands, a piece of lumber known as “Law and Order,” an electrical cord and a long, narrow plastic pipe.
JaKatie described a climate of fear in the family’s Upper Dublin Township house where everyone, including her mother, was continually in danger of breaking one of her father’s strict rules, getting “in trouble” and getting hit.
Her mother, she said, never hit or spanked the kids.
“He [McBurrows] beat Michael more than anybody,” JaKatie testified.
McBurrows beat Michael five to 10 times with the carpenter’s level on the fatal night, Jane McBurrows said, after the little boy violated the pastor’s rule by not closing his eyes in the bathroom when one of the female children was using the toilet.
Not true, McBurrows said yesterday. “I have a bladder problem and a prostate problem,” he said, that “hinder me from regular bowel movements.”
As a result, McBurrows said, he “takes a long time” in the toilet, reading and eating to pass the time. The bathroom has no door. So his rule, McBurrows said, is, “When Daddy’s in the bathroom, always close your eyes and turn around.”
On the night of Jan. 9, 1999, he said, Michael was in the bathroom while one of McBurrows’ young daughters was using the toilet. Jane asked Michael to turn away, the pastor said. Michael defied Jane, but turned away when McBurrows asked him to, calling the pastor “Daddy.”
McBurrows said this infuriated Jane, who accused him of actually being Michael’s father. This escalated, McBurrows said, until he told Jane he was leaving her and taking the children with him.
Then, he said, because he had had five heart attacks and had run out of prescription medicine, he was exhausted and went into the bedroom where he fell asleep, leaving Jane in the bathroom with Michael.
He said he didn’t know how much time had elapsed before he was awakened by a loud noise, looked into the bathroom and saw Michael lying on the floor, struggling to breathe.
McBurrows cleared Michael’s tongue, clapped him on the back until Michael vomited and gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
“Jane avoided him,” McBurrows said, but shortly thereafter he said it was Jane who had driven Michael to the hospital.
Later, after being informed that Michael had died, McBurrows disposed of the level in the yard of an abandoned church. When police arrived at his house, he put his five natural children in the family van and drove to Georgia, where he was arrested.
The judge is expected to deliver his verdict on Friday.