Laura Boone, 17, told the jury in an Atlanta suburb that she babysat Josef Smith. She had said previously the incident occurred during a Remnant Fellowship Church event in 2003.
Josef’s parents, Joseph and Sonya Smith, were charged in a 14-count indictment in June with murder, cruelty to children, aggravated assault and false imprisonment. Their trial in Marietta, Ga., is expected to last through next week.
Boone said Josef was crying on the April 2003 day she went to care for him. When she asked Joseph Smith what to do, he told her to “hit him harder.” Boone said she refused to hit the child.
“He took Josef in (another room) and he was still crying, and we could hear him just hitting and the son just wailing,” Boone testified, according to courtroom video shown by WTVF-NewsChannel5.
In other testimony Wednesday, police said the Smiths held an online prayer session with their church, Brentwood-based Remnant Fellowship Church, while the child lay dying.
Joseph Smith told police his son frequently needed discipline because the child carved death threats on the walls that kept the family awake at night and claimed he was a foot soldier for the devil.
Prosecutors say the parents met that behavior with a tragic overreaction that led to the boy’s death, his body full of bruises and other injuries, after the October 2003 prayer session.
Prosecutors say the boy was beaten by his parents, locked inside a wooden box and forced to stay in a closet for hours at a time. Ex-members of Remnant Fellowship Church say the punishments were in line with discipline advice they heard while attending the church.
Church leaders dispute that claim. Gwen Shamblin, creator of the Weigh Down Workshop Christian weight loss program, told The Tennessean the church condones discipline, not abuse.
Defense attorneys for the couple say Josef did not die from the injuries, and that the county medical examiner failed to perform crucial tests that would have found the actual cause of his death.
Wednesday, the prosecution showed jurors emergency room photographs of what appeared to be bruises on the boy’s head, shoulders, torso and legs. The 10 women and four men showed no reaction as they examined the pictures.
“You can see the bruises and injuries, which appear to be in various stages of healing and occurrence,” said Steven Gaynor, who was a Cobb County police detective at the time of Josef’s death. Gaynor works for the department’s special operations unit.
After the boy’s death, Joseph Smith told police investigators that he frequently disciplined the boy with a glue stick, a foot-long piece of flexible material used inside a glue gun.
“He said he on occasion struck young Josef with a belt, but most of the time they struck him with the glue stick, and that was for discipline. In the past, they had used a switch, but that didn’t appear to be very effective,” Gaynor said. “He said he knew Josef had all these abrasions on his body because he had treated some of them.”
The father told detectives they stayed up at night after their son carved death threats against the family on walls of the house and that the child claimed he was “Legion, soldier of the devil,” Gaynor said.
“I pictured it as (in the movie) The Exorcist, when you change your voice and become a different person. He said that young Josef would … make note he wanted to kill everybody in his family,” Gaynor said.
“Because of the activities that young Josef was reportedly doing, the family was extremely tired. He (Joseph Smith) indicated it was very stressful for the family to have to take all these actions.”
Firefighters responding to a 911 call at the Smith residence also testified Wednesday that the boy was covered in what appeared to be bruises.
Police and emergency medical personnel went on Oct. 8, 2003, to a home in Mableton, 12 miles northwest of Atlanta, after a report that Josef was unresponsive. He later died at a children’s hospital.
The boys’ parents told authorities he passed out and never regained consciousness after the family gathered in the kitchen to participate in a prayer session with their church via the Internet.
Authorities raided Remnant Fellowship Church in June 2004 as part of the investigation of Josef Smith’s death.
“There was some indication that possibly the church was involved, but nothing solid was ever determined,” Gaynor said Wednesday.
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