(CMR) Larry Levers and Michael Anthony Stewart were acquitted today in the drowning death of 14-year-old Rico Batten. The Grand jury comprising of four men and three women made their decision today in less than three hours after hearing evidence for the past five weeks.
The sometimes sensational trial had moments of sadness, intrigue and outright denials by defendants. In the end, it took the jurors mere hours to decide the fate of the two mean for the November 2015 incident. Batten had only recently been placed in the boy's home. The prosecution's arguments appeared to shift and change course at times. However, the various defense lawyers remained firm in their position that whilst a young life was lost these two men were not criminally responsible for it.
The prosecution's case hinged on the legal argument that the defendants owed Rico Batten a duty to take reasonable care to save his life. The question was whether they failed to adequately supervision Batten and as a result of that he drowned; amounting to culpable manslaughter.
The two workers had an exemplary work history and in fact, Stewart unexpectedly been called into work on what was to be his day off to assist because of staff shortages. Paul Keleher, QC the lead for Michael Stewart shared in his closing arguments that the real responsibility for the young man's death “lies much further up.” He reminded the jurors that this case was not about errors of judgment but was whether or not Stewart killed Batten by his criminal negligence. He stressed that when accidents happen it is natural to what to find someone to blame for it; but this was not to be used to obtain a conviction for a hardworking, compassionate individual.
The evidence of supervisor Candice Hylton and Bonaventure Jennifer Tippett indicated that they “always felt they were excellent workers.” However, he also pointed out some managerial failings including no up to date appraisals since Tippetts took over at the home. In fact, during the defense case, they had to rely upon appraisals from 2013. Despite that, she did not disagree with the content of those reviews which spoke to how hardworking and trustworthy Stewart was. His supervisors found that he exceeded expectations, was effective at planning and took excellent care for the kids.
However, he also pointed out that management had a vested interest in lying to the authorities and by doing so falsely put the blame on these two men. In fact, Tippetts had not been interviewed until some two years after that fateful day. Both her and Sydney Williams CAYS Foundation director lied to the police that there had been a policy in place that required the men to indicate where they were going beforehand. However, they were completely discredited on the stand when the contrary was proven. In fact, the men changed locations multiple times as they felt conditions had become unsafe. QC Keleher, shared:
“the smell of a coverup is almost overpowering”
Neither men entered the water to offer assistance to Batten because they were unable to swim; a point that Williams confirmed had never required of the men. Stewart had also had back issues and had only recently undergone some medical treatments for it.
Courteney Griffiths QC told the jury that the prosecution had not met the legal requirements to prove the case against his client, Larry Levers.
When the verdict was rendered Levers began crying whilst Stewart appeared relieved.