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Alabama man testifies he ‘popped’ toddler during potty training but did not beat him


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    MOBILE, Alabama (WALA) — Taking the witness stand in his own defense Thursday, a Theodore man charged with capital murder acknowledged that he “popped” his girlfriend’s toddler during a potty-training session three years ago but insisted he did not beat him.

The prosecution and defense both rested in the trial of Willie Anthony Burton, who faces life in prison without possibility of parole if convicted. The lawyers will deliver closing arguments to the jury on Friday.

Prosecutors allege that Burton, 34, became frustrated while potty-training 2-year-old Kye Freeman and inflicted severe blows to his head and abdomen.

The incident occurred in August 2018 at a home in Theodore that Burton sometimes shared with Kye Freeman’s mother.

A forensic investigator this week testified that the child’s intestines ruptured, sending him into shock – and that the injuries were consistent with an intentional act.

According to testimony this week, Keijon Hoyt went to her job as an exotic dancer on the weekend of her son’s death, leaving Burton, her sister and others to watch over him and a baby she shared with the defendant. The defendant acknowledged on the witness stand that he had disciplined Kye.

“I popped him because he got off the toilet,” he said. “I grabbed him by the hand, and I popped him on the butt and put him back on the toilet.”

Burton testified that he went outside for a smoke and found when he returned that the child again had gotten off of the toilet So, the defendant told jurors, he “popped” him again.

Burton testified that Hoyt was in the kitchen both times and that the child was not hurt. He denied beating him.

Prosecutor presses inconsistent statements Mobile County Assistant District Attorney Louis Walker pressed the defendant on cross-examination about conflicting statements he gave during a police interrogation. He suggested that Burton initially told police that he “whupped” Kye and popped him on the hand or back of the leg.

Burton acknowledged the “popped” the child but added that it was on the buttocks.

“I denied whupping his ass,” he said.

Walker also asked Burton about two separate times that Hoyt got protection-from-abuse orders against him – once in 2017 and then again after Kye’s death.

Burton denied the prosecutor’s suggestion that he was not surprised when police told him Kye’s death was not due to natural causes.

“Yes, I was,” he said.

Burton’s testimony contributed to a portrait presented during the trial of a tumultuous relationship he had with Hoyt. He testified about Hoyt accusing him of stealing her car keys – which he denied.

“I was arrested,” he said. “I was on probation at the time, so they took me to jail.”

Burton said he spent 40 days in jail. But eventually, he testified, he reconciled with Hoyt and they began seeing each other again. He said she later gave birth to her son.

Two other defense witnesses testified. Tanekka Montgomery recounted seeing Hoyt hit Kye in the grocery store when she defied her instructions not to put grapes into the cart.

“He got one in anyway, and she popped him on the hand,” she said. “It was too aggressive for me, for grapes.”

Montgomery acknowledged under cross-examination, though, that it was in a public place and that she did not feel the need to call authorities.

Tracy Copeland, who is married to a childhood friend of Burton’s, testified that the defendant and Hoyt spent about a month at her home in Mississippi in July 2018. She testified that she thought it was strange that Hoyt did not have her newborn baby with her. She testified that Hoyt told her the children were with her mother in Georgia because she has more patience.

“She was asking me a lot of questions about having a child with special needs and how did I deal with that?” she said.

During his cross-examination, Walker cast the exchange as a woman seeking advice on how to be a better parent.

‘My kids are happy’ Hoyt told FOX10 News outside the courtroom that she believes defense attorney Jeff Deen mischaracterized her bipolar disorder.

“My kids are healthy. My kids are happy,” she said.

Walker used part of his cross-examination of Burton to try to knock down any insinuation that the defendant believed Hoyt was responsible for Kye’s death. He acknowledged that she sent him money while he was in jail after his arrest on the murder charge and that they communicated frequently. That is something Burton would not have done if he thought Hoyt was responsible for the child’s death, the prosecutor suggested.

Mobile County Circuit Judge Wesley Pipes said he would consider a defense request to throw out the charges on grounds that prosecutors had presented insufficient evidence. But he added that it is likely the “state has provided enough to get to a jury.”

The judge also said he would allow jurors to consider two lesser alternatives to capital murder, felony murder and reckless manslaughter. He withheld a decision on whether to include a misdemeanor, criminally negligent homicide.

Deen told FOX10 News that he is hopeful now that all of the evidence has been presented to the jury.

“He said he didn’t do it when he pled not guilty,” he said. “He said he didn’t do it when they interviewed in three years ago. And when he got on the witness stand, he said he didn’t do it. We don’t think they have presented a sufficient evidence to find him guilty of what he’s charged with.”

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