An Eagan man is accused of fatally beating his girlfriend’s foster child after having to change the boy’s diaper.
Charles Wayne Homich, 27, was charged last Wednesday with three counts of murder and two counts of manslaughter in the June 2017 death of 3-year-old Zayden Ace Lawson, according to a criminal complaint filed in Dakota County District Court. Lawson’s foster mother, 31-year-old Zeporia Dionn Fortenberry, was charged with two counts of manslaughter, according to a separate criminal complaint.
Fortenberry made her initial appearance in a Hastings courtroom on Thursday, while Homich, who was arrested over the weekend, made his first appearance on Monday, according to a news release issued by the office of Dakota County attorney James Backstrom.
Neither Homich nor Fortenberry could be reached for comment. No attorney was listed for either of them on the charges.
“The fatal injuries suffered by this little boy are extremely disturbing,” Backstrom said in the release. The Ramsey County Medical Examiner found that Lawson had suffered blunt force trauma injuries to his abdomen — including perforations to his small intestine and lacerations to his liver — that left “a large amount of blood in his abdominal cavity,” the criminal complaints said.
On the afternoon of June 7, 2017, police officers and paramedics responded to a report of an unresponsive child at the Eagan townhome that Homich and Fortenberry shared with Fortenberry’s two biological children and her two foster children — Lawson and his younger brother.
First responders found Lawson lying on his back on the living room floor, cold to the touch and without a pulse, according to court documents. Lawson was transported to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, where he was pronounced dead.
Fortenberry and Homich told police they had found Lawson earlier that morning lying on his bedroom floor with vomit on his clothes, the criminal complaints said against them said. Fortenberry said she called 911 that afternoon when she noticed Lawson wasn’t breathing.
Fortenberry, who works overnights, told investigators that Homich had cared for the children alone for the first time on the evening of June 6, and that she “believed Homich had something to do with Lawson’s death,” court documents said.
Fortenberry’s usual baby sitter, who is identified in the charges as “LB,” told investigators that Fortenberry regularly asked LB to care for the kids while she was at work because “she did not trust Homich with Lawson,” and that “Homich would ‘lose his cool’ if he had to change Lawson’s dirty diaper,” according to the criminal complaint against Homich.
LB also recalled hearing Lawson tell Fortenberry that Homich had hit him in the head because the 3-year-old had defecated in his diaper, the criminal complaint said.
Homich told investigators that he changed Lawson’s soiled diaper the night before the boy died, according to the complaint.
A friend and co-worker of Homich’s, identified in court documents as “DW,” told police that — prior to Lawson’s death — Homich said he had “punched the f— out of Zayden in his stomach,” the complaint said.
Investigators also searched the mobile phones of Fortenberry and Homich, and found a series of text messages they exchanged three days before Lawson’s death, according to the complaint against Fortenberry. The conversation begins with Homich telling Fortenberry that Lawson had urinated in his diaper, to which Fortenberry allegedly replied: “O wow.. I’m so sick of him did u whoop his a–? I just don’t know what else to do with that kid.”
Homich then texted that he “Beat the s— out of them feet,” the complaint said.
“Good.. lil f—–,” Fortenberry replied, according to the complaint.
Investigators also discovered a text conversation between Homich and his mother that took place a week after Lawson died, in which Homich tells his mother he is “about to go to prison,” and asks her to take the blame for Lawson’s death, the complaint said.
Fortenberry’s next court appearance is scheduled for April 25, while Homich’s is set for May 9.
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