Jury convicts Anderson on child homicide, felony child abuse

Published 7:32 pm Friday, September 9, 2022

NATCHEZ ­— An Adams County jury found James Christopher Anderson, 27, guilty of child homicide and felony child abuse, returning a verdict just before 7 p.m. Friday.

Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders moved immediately into the sentencing phase of the trial, sentencing Anderson to 20 years on the child homicide of Armani Hill, 4, and 20 years on the felony child abuse of Lailah Hill, 3. She ordered the sentences to run concurrently, meaning at the same time.

James Christopher Anderson

The jury began deliberation at 4:25 p.m. At 6 p.m., the jury’s foreman passed a note to the judge asking the difference between capital murder, with which Anderson was originally charged and the child homicide charge Sanders allowed the jury to consider in her instructions.

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The difference in the two charges in layman’s terms apparently involves intent to commit murder.

The lesser charge of child homicide carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Capital murder carries a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Defendant takes the stand

Anderson took the stand in his own defense Friday, saying the children’s mother, LaKeshia Jones, was the one who abused the children. He said he was their protector, often taking the blame at times when the children would get in trouble in order to spare them punishment from their mother.

That’s the reason he gave for 3-year-old Lailah telling medical staff members that “J.C. hit us.”

He portrayed Jones as a violent parent, often hitting her daughters for little or no reason. He said he did not drink, but said she did, and would be violent when she was drunk. He said he did not like it when Jones drank because at the time she was pregnant with his son.

Jones was indicted on two counts of child neglect. Her case will be tried in the same Adams County Courtroom beginning Sept. 21.

Anderson testified he took care of the children as if he were their parent.

“I did anything I could do for them, anything I thought a father was supposed to do,” he said.

Anderson worked security from 11 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday for Dawson Security at the former Titan Tire plant. LeKeshia Jones worked that same shift as security at Titan Tire on weekdays.

“The kids were not bad. I never spanked them. I never even yelled at them,” Anderson said.

On Tuesday, June 4, the day before Armani’s death on Wednesday, June 5, 2019, Anderson testified Jones and her children returned from having spent the previous weekend and Monday night at the home of her mother, Lois Jones, at Holiday Apartments.

He said he helped Jones bring groceries and her and the girls’ belongings into their home at 1401 Lafayette St. Anderson said at that time, Jones told him the girls were sick and had been throwing up. He said she bought Pedialyte for the girls.

He said Jones left for work just before 11 p.m. and he was left with the girls, who were already in their beds asleep. He said he went into his bedroom and played video games, then went to bed himself.

Anderson testified he heard LaKeshia return home from work shortly after 8 a.m.

“She would usually eat something and get in the bed, or she would take a shower then get in the bed,” Anderson said.

On that day, instead, Anderson said Jones told her she was going to the store, then to his sister’s home at Holiday Apartments to watch a movie and visit. She told him Armani had vomited and that she had cleaned up her face and put her back in bed.

Jones would later tell Natchez Police Department Investigator Gerald Mooney, now retired, that she left the home so abruptly after coming home from work because she saw the family’s new puppy sleeping with Anderson and that she became jealous.

In a text message to Anderson, after he inquired if something was wrong, Jones replied, “I’m jealous of the dog. There. I said it.”

Anderson said when the girls woke up, neither wanted breakfast, which was unusual. They asked for water, which they typically share, but that Armani drank almost the entire bottle quickly.

Anderson said the girls were watching YouTube on his phone and he noticed Armani wasn’t well.

“It was like she couldn’t focus,” he said.

Anderson said he called Jones and told her Armani wasn’t well and neither was Lailah. That’s when he decided to walk the girls to his mother’s home, which was located within a quarter mile of the Lafayette Street house.

“I knew my mom would know what to do,” he said.

Anderson said he had to carry Armani, who at that point was limp. He said Jones began walking, too, from his mother’s apartment. They met up at the entrance to the apartment complex.

“I tried to hand her Armani, but she wouldn’t take her,” Anderson said. Instead, she took Lailah’s hand, who was having difficulty walking. Then she picked Lailah up and carried her to Anderson’s mother’s apartment.

Anderson’s mother immediately called 911 when she saw Armani’s condition.

Armani was taken by ambulance to Merit Hospital Natchez, arriving at 11:10 a.m. She was pronounced dead at 12:26 p.m.

Lailah was transported in her maternal grandmother Lois Jones’ vehicle. LaKeshia Jones accompanied her.

Anderson testified he tried to get in the car to head to the hospital, but Jones told him to go back to their home and get their Medicaid cards, which would be needed at the hospital. He said Jones said she would come and pick him up after Lailah was at the hospital, but that did not happen.

He said he was tired of waiting and began to walk to the hospital. However, Lois Jones eventually picked him up while he was walking and took him to the entrance to the ER.

Anderson said he was met there by a Natchez Police officer, who arrested him.

Upon cross-examination, ADA Paul Sullivan asked Anderson about a Mississippi Department of Child Protective Services investigation that began in late December 2018 or early January 2019.

Anderson testified he did not know he was the subject of that investigation.