Fort Mill Times

Former boyfriend pleads guilty, sentenced in Fort Mill baby's death

Kayla Anderson gave her infant son, Jacob, a bottle. When the six-month old went to sleep, Anderson put him in his crib.

Then she went to work at a Rock Hill eatery, entrusting her son's care to her boyfriend. That was the last time the Fort Mill woman would see her child alive.

“She went to work just after 5 p.m. and came back just a little bit before 11 p.m.,” Deputy Solicitor Willy Thompson said of Anderson, who tossed a load of laundry in a washing machine before checking on Jacob.

“She went up and put her hand on him and started calling his name and realized he was not responding or breathing,” Thompson said.

And the baby she'd fed hours before was cold.

“That sent her into hysterics, realizing that her child wasn't responding,” Thompson said. “She said to the judge that she realized her worse nightmare had come true.”

That bitter realization happened Jan. 5, 2007.

Three months later, police investigations and autopsy results led authorities to arrest Anderson's then boyfriend. Authorities charged Rock Hill's Bobby Marquis Cornwell, then 30, with homicide by child abuse, a report from the Fort Mill Police Department notes.

That felony charge with conviction carries a jail sentence ranging from 20 years to life, Thompson said.

Cornwell, the father of a then 7-year old daughter, was released on a $250,000. More than three years later, Cornwell, on Aug. 10 pleaded guilty to unlawful child neglect in a York court room, according to the York County 16th Judicial Circuit public index.

The charge carries up to a 10-year jail sentence, Thompson said.

Sentencing was deferred until Monday, the index reflected.

Judge John C. Hayes handed down a 10-year sentence that requires Cornwell to complete seven years before starting a five-year probation, Thompson said. The index notes that Cornwell, who was defended by 16th Circuit Public Defender Harry Dest and B.J. Barrowclough, received credit for serving 49 days.

“Our main goal was to try to save his life because our client always maintained that he never intentionally harmed the child,” Dest said several days after Cornwell's sentencing. “We now have a sentence where our client will certainly have a lot of life left…. He could be released after three years.”

Hayes also ordered that Cornwell must undergo random drug and alcohol testing, pay restitution to Anderson and receive treatment for a drug addiction while incarcerated, Thompson said.

“I'm happy with the judge's decision,” Thompson said. “It certainly is better than a jury coming back with a not guilty verdict.”

The state argued that the baby was abused, triggering brain and eye injuries and subsequently death. However, Dest and Barrowclough argued that the baby's death was an accident triggered by a blue blanket found in his crib.

“The mother said she saw the child lying on his left side with the blanket over his face with his right hand grasping the blanket over his face,” said Dest, who argued that would have caused the child to breath in his own carbon dioxide, a condition known as re-breath.

“The reason that's significant is that that would have caused the injuries that were observed at the autopsy,” Dest said.

Thompson countered with a different argument.

“That's a minority view of what happened,” he said. “Three York County pathologists and an expert from Mexico said the injuries were due to an acute traumatic central nervous system injury.”

When authorities responded to the Boseman Drive apartment, they found the baby lying on the floor. The child was not breathing, according to a report from the Fort Mill Police Department. The report further notes that autopsy and pathology reports reflect that the cause of death was “acute traumatic central nervous system injury” or shaken baby syndrome.

“He also had fingertip bruising on his right side,” Thompson said of the baby, who also had bleeding throughout his brain. “The child was alive when she (Anderson) left. The time of death happened when the defendant was caring for the child.”

And there was another twist, Thompson said.

“Every person who responded (to the apartment) noted that there was an extremely strong smell of marijuana,” Thompson said. “He (Cornwell) was the only person in the residence. Instead of caring for the child, he was smoking marijuana.”

Dest said the drug was the basis for Cornwell's guilty plea.

“He never pleaded guilty to intentionally harming the child,” Dest said. “The reason for the guilty plea was the apartment smelled of marijuana and that he did not check on the child for a period of four hours.”

Leaving a mother childless, Thompson said.

“It's appalling,” Thompson said. “Children are the most defenseless group of our society. Defendants in this situation don't mean to hurt a child. They're not used to their role as a caregiver, but it doesn't make it any less egregious. If a child is crying, walk away. Don't react in such a way that injuries or kills a child.”

Cornwell on Wednesday remained in custody at York County Detention Center. He will be transferred to a jail at a later date.