Schenectady County

Mother’s boyfriend admits killing Schenectady infant

John J. Batease pleaded guilty Friday to first-degree manslaughter in the death of 20-month-old Asia

John J. Batease threw 20-month-old Asiah Maxam in the air June 19, 2011, and the boy hit the floor.

That was an account Batease gave to a judge Friday afternoon of Asiah’s final moments, as he moved to plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the boy’s death. But it was also an account that wasn’t the whole truth of what happened to young Asiah.

In an emotional and lengthy guilty plea, marked by prosecutors questioning Batease’s initial account and acting Schenectady County Court Judge Michael Coccoma pressing him for an account that matched with the major and life-ending injuries that Asiah suffered — injuries described in detail in a 19-page pathology report — Batease relented.

He finally gave what prosecutors later called the most truthful account of the final moments of young Asiah’s life as they and Asiah’s family were ever going to get.

Batease not only threw the child up in the air and failed to catch him, he told the court, he intentionally failed to catch the child. The child hit the floor.

As the child cried, Batease grew angrier.

In the bedroom, he forcefully threw the young boy into a hard, plastic playpen. Then did it again.

At one point, the judge finally asked why — why would Batease to this to this young child?

“I was frustrated with, with being … ” he said before pausing. “I was just overwhelmed with all the pressure going on around me, taking care of other people’s kids, my kids, frustration with relationships.”

“And you took it out on this 20-month-old child?” the judge asked.

“Yes, sir,” he replied.

As the allocution ended, Asiah’s mother, Jamie Darrel, who had appeared resolute through much of the proceedings, wiped her eyes with a tissue.

By the end, though, it was Batease who was crying. As Coccoma deemed Batease guilty of first-degree manslaughter, tears dripped from his face. He remained emotional until he was led from the courtroom.

Batease, 33, entered his guilty plea to end a dramatic two days of court appearances. He initially appeared Thursday morning, saying he was ready to plead guilty, in exchange for a sentence of 20 years in prison.

But Batease ultimately was reluctant to take the plea. Being led into the courtroom to plead guilty, officials said he was even heard saying he didn’t do it.

Coccoma refused to entertain a deal Thursday, ending the proceedings. His decision also ended Batease’s chances at the 20-year deal; prosecutors took it off the table.

In its place Friday was a deal that called for 22 years in prison. Batease agreed to that deal.

Had Batease wavered Friday and not taken that deal, prosecutors said they would have pressed the case to trial, forcing Batease to plead to the entire indictment, if he finally decided to plead. That would have included a possible life sentence upon conviction.

At trial, he faced not only the manslaughter charge, but also second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 25 years to life.

Batease was indicted in Asiah’s killing in September. He had long been the focus of the investigation into the little boy’s death. He was taken into custody shortly after Asiah’s death, for violating an order of protection held by the mother of his own child. After being questioned by police the night of Asiah’s killing, Batease called her, resulting in his arrest.

Batease, Darrel’s boyfriend, was watching Asiah and several of Asiah’s siblings that evening. Darrel had been there, but left the children in Batease’s care in her home at 611 Hattie St.

After the attack, Asiah stopped breathing, and Batease carried him outside and asked neighbors to summon paramedics. Neighbors said then that he told them Asiah had fallen out of a crib.

Batease repeated that account as rescuers tried to revive the boy, according to earlier testimony.

When the child arrived at Ellis Hospital, it was apparent to medical personnel that his injuries indicated something more than a fall. He had severe head trauma and an airway clogged with blood.

In court, prosecutors outlined the extent of the boy’s injuries. Court broke for several minutes after Batease’s initial account so prosecutors could retrieve the pathology report.

Prosecutor Tracey Brunecz ultimately told the court that the child died of a skull fracture and brain bleeding caused by blunt-force trauma. There was no way, she told the court, that Asiah’s injuries were caused by falling from a crib or an accidental fall.

“These injuries were inflicted upon the child,” she said.

Asiah, family and friends recalled after his death, was a happy child, one who loved when a family friend carried him around the house in a laundry basket.

Outside the courtroom, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said Coccoma did a “masterful job” at getting closer to the truth of what actually happened than they had ever gotten before. Carney noted that judges can simply ask defendants to admit to the basic elements of the crime, without going into detail about the events surrounding the crime.

Coccoma, though, pressed for a full accounting.

“I think in this case it was very important,” Carney said. “It was very important for the family to hear for the first time as much of the truth as we’re going to get.”

There were other children in the house, Carney noted, but they did not see the attack, only hearing portions of it.

The case, Carney said, was largely circumstantial, built upon the pathology report and the fact that Batease was the only adult in the house.

The full title of the judge who got that truth is “Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Courts Outside New York City.” Based in Otsego County, Coccoma is a former district attorney in that county and now manages courts in 57 counties, but he also frequently presides over cases in Schenectady County as one of several visiting judges.

Speaking of Batease’s initial reluctance to tell the full story, Carney said, “I think it’s clear at some level that he wanted to put this behind him, but until today, I don’t think he had come to grips with what he did.”

The case was prosecuted by Tracey Brunecz and Christina Tremante-Pelham.

Batease’s attorney, Kent Gebert, echoed Carney’s thoughts on his client’s state of mind.

“I think that he’s genuinely remorseful,” Gebert said after Friday’s plea. “Unfortunately there was a penalty imposed for not pleading yesterday, two additional years. But he went ahead and he did allocute today, and I think that he wants to put this behind him.”

After the final blow, Batease told the court he brought the boy into the living room and placed a washcloth on his forehead.

He knew the boy was injured, but he didn’t seek medical attention until he stopped breathing.

Batease told the judge he knew his conduct would result in the child being injured and knew what he was doing was a crime. He also admitted he caused the child’s death.

At the outset of the proceedings, Coccoma asked that Batease briefly have his handcuffs removed, so Batease could freely raise his right hand to be sworn in.

The corrections officer did so, holding the free end of the handcuffs as Batease vowed to tell the truth. The officer then reattached the cuffs.

After his initial account gave way to the fuller, larger account, Coccoma concluded with a final question.

“Now, I ask you this,” Coccoma said: “Have you been truthful with what you told the court?”

“Yes,” Batease responded.

He is to be sentenced Aug. 27.

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