Charges against man in Pottsville shaken baby case held for court

Frank Andruscavage, Republican & Herald, Pottsville, Pa.
·3 min read

May 3—POTTSVILLE — Destiny Duckett wept while holding a box, covered by a tiny shirt and pair of pants, containing the ashes of her infant son as his alleged killer was seen on a video screen during his preliminary hearing Monday.

Cordell John Thomas, 23, of 316 Pine St., Reading, appeared by video conference before Magisterial District Judge James K. Reiley on charges that he caused fatal injuries to 3-month-old Mateo Thomas by violently shaking the baby in September at a home at 616 Oak St. in the city. Reiley bound the charges to county court, where Thomas can plead guilty or plead innocent and seek a trial.

Pottsville police Detective Joseph Welsh, who filed the charges, was the only witness called by First Assistant District Attorney Michael Stine during the 20-minute proceeding. Thomas' attorney, Todd A. Mays, of Reading, did not call any witnesses.

Welsh said Pottsville police and Schuylkill EMS were called to the home on Sept. 24 for a report of a child not breathing and subsequently rushed the boy to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Schuylkill E. Norwegian Street. From there the child was taken by helicopter to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest, where he died from the injuries, Welsh said.

He said Dr. Debra D. Esernio-Jenssen, a member of the child protection team at Cedar Crest, determined the boy suffered "serious traumatic brain injuries."

A forensic autopsy completed by the Lehigh County Coroner's Office determined the cause of death was blunt force injuries to the head and ruled the manner of death a homicide, Welsh told the court.

The detective said he later interviewed Cordell Thomas, who admitted being alone with the child for about two hours before police and EMS were called because Duckett had a doctor's appointment.

In paperwork filed with Reiley at the time of Thomas' arrest on Jan. 21, Welsh said Esernio-Jensses concluded that the child was "neurologically devastated," had no specific movement and only responded to deep pain.

Esernio-Janssen determined the child had injuries consistent with abusive head trauma and that he was the victim of acceleration and deceleration forces caused by violent shaking.

After questioning Welsh, Stine said the commonwealth believes it had proved a prima facie case because Cordell Thomas was alone with the child at the time the injuries occurred. He called Thomas' actions a "malicious act that resulted in the death of another person."

Reiley agreed and said prosecutors presented enough evidence to send all of the charges against Thomas to Schuylkill County Court. He faces one felony count each of third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter; two counts of aggravated assault; and one misdemeanor count each of simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of children.

Mays offered no closing statements.

"I have no argument to make for the purpose of today's proceedings. I will make arguments at a later date," he said.

Thomas remains in Schuylkill County Prison where he has been held without bail since the time of his arrest earlier this year.