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Bowman v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

October 23, 2019



          Philip C Wilson, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Michael Zangari, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, Judge

         A Grant County Circuit Court jury convicted appellant Akela Shylo Bowman of murder in the first degree, a Class Y felony, and sentenced her to thirty years' imprisonment in the Arkansas Department of Correction. Bowman appeals her conviction, arguing that insufficient evidence existed to support the finding that she knowingly caused the death of her four-month-old son, K.S. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         On January 25, 2017, emergency responders were dispatched to Bowman's residence after receiving a "code blue" call concerning a baby.[1] When paramedics arrived at Bowman's home, they found K.S. not breathing and unresponsive. He was immediately transported to Arkansas Children's Hospital for additional treatment.

         At the scene, Bowman told law enforcement officers that K.S. had been born two months premature, that she fed him formula regularly, and that he was progressing normally. She opted not to ride with him in the ambulance to the hospital. Later that night, K.S. died at the hospital.

         At trial, Dr. Steven Shirm, a thirty-year board-certified pediatrician who was on duty in the emergency room at Arkansas Children's Hospital the night K.S. died, testified on behalf of the State. He treated K.S., and following the child's death, he immediately contacted the coroner due to the "shock" of K.S.'s physical condition and his suspicion that "[t]he child appear[ed] to have been starved to death." When Bowman arrived at the hospital, she told the doctor that K.S. had been born two months premature but had taken to the bottle well and that she had experienced no problems feeding him.

         Dr. Shirm testified that based on his medical experience and expertise, Bowman's explanation was "not at all consistent" with his observations and that a properly fed premature infant should have weighed approximately eight pounds by the age of four months. When K.S. was born on September 2, 2016, he weighed four pounds. When he was discharged from the hospital in October 2016, he weighed six pounds, one ounce. At the time of his death in January 2017, he weighed five pounds, eleven ounces.

         Arkansas Children's Hospital social worker Trevor Arnett also testified at trial. He met and talked with Bowman the night K.S. died. Bowman repeated the same explanation she had given Dr. Shirm about K.S.'s being premature, and she seemed "very passive" in the situation. Bowman showed Arnett a picture of K.S. taken two weeks before his death, remarking "how well [K.S. was] doing" and "what a happy child he is" in the photograph. Arnett went on to testify that K.S.'s condition in the photograph reminded him "of a Holocaust survivor, of someone who appeared to be starving . . . [and] suffering . . . [he] looked like someone who needed help."

         A forensic autopsy established the cause of death as calorie malnutrition and ruled it a homicide. The forensic examiner's report noted that "the external appearance of the infant was one of extreme marasmus."[2] The lead forensic examiner testified this was caused by malnourishment, and she observed its effect on K.S.'s body during the autopsy, which included the skin's "very wrinkled" and "shriveled" appearance. The report detailed the physical appearance of K.S.'s body, which included eyes sunken into his orbital bones and clearly prominent skeletal features visible from beneath the skin. The autopsy report stated that these were "significant obvious [signs of] malnutrition," which would have been apparent for two weeks prior to death.

         Bowman was interviewed by law enforcement personnel on January 31, 2017, as part of the criminal investigation surrounding K.S.'s death. During the interview, which was introduced into evidence at trial, Bowman stated that she had regularly fed K.S. Alimentum baby formula multiple times daily since his discharge from the hospital and that his condition appeared fine until the night of January 25. The jury heard Bowman's statement that "[K.S.] looked like he was staying the same weight, but getting longer, if you can understand what I'm saying[.]" The jury was presented testimony and exhibits that reflected that medical staff had instructed Bowman to feed K.S. twenty-two milligrams of Alimentum baby formula every three hours after he was discharged in October 2016. During the interview, Bowman stated that she had fed K.S. seven cans of this formula every month as directed and never really had leftovers. However, Bowman also admitted that she still had two cans of his monthly supply left when he died in late January.

         A copy of a post from Bowman's Facebook account was also introduced into evidence as a trial exhibit. In the January 3, 2017 post, Bowman was attempting to sell four cans of "never opened" Alimentum formula. The Arkansas Department of Health sent Bowman a warning letter dated January 31, 2017, concerning the "suspicious" post, advising that the sale of government-issued formula is illegal and that any unused cans must be returned. Health department records indicate Bowman returned four cans of Alimentum baby formula on February 2, 2017.

         At the close of the State's evidence, Bowman moved for a directed verdict because the evidence that she had knowingly caused K.S.'s death was insufficient. The circuit court denied the motion. The defense called seven witnesses at trial who testified to Bowman's care of the child. At the close of all the evidence, Bowman renewed her motion. The ...

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