Georgia man convicted of murder, crushing toddler stepson's chest

A Georgia man has been convicted of three counts of felony murder in the 2014 death of his 2-year-old stepson, the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office said.

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A jury returned the verdict for Bertrand Hounkpatin, 40, of Lawrenceville, on Aug. 15, after a nine-day trial. Hounkpatin was tried on the three felony murder charges but not tried on underlying charges of aggravated assault, aggravated battery and first-degree cruelty to children.

In 2014, Hounkpatin lived with his wife and six children between the ages of 8 months and 11 years. Hounkpatin was stepfather to five of the children and the father of the 8-month old. Hounkpatin was unemployed and watched the children while his wife worked, authorities said.

Police and emergency medical personnel responded to Hounkpatin’s home on Jan. 25, 2014, at noon following a 911 call. Hounkpatin’s 11-year-old stepdaughter was performing CPR on her 2-year-old brother when authorities arrived, and Hounkpatin was sitting nearby, officials said.

A police officer tried to talk to the 11-year-old at the home, but Hounkpatin told him not to listen to her because she regularly lied, according to the DA’s office. Later, the 11-year-old signaled to the officer “with her eyes” and handed him a “cryptic note” that indicated Hounkpatin had done something to cause the 2-year-old’s medical distress, the DA’s office said in a press release.

When the toddler was transported to Gwinnett Medical Center, he was pronounced dead. The three eldest children— aged 11, 9 and 7 — were interviewed by police and told officers that after breakfast, Hounkpatin took their 3-year-old brother and 2-year-old brother into a bedroom, authorities said. The older children heard hitting noises and crying, followed by silence, they told police. After, Hounkpatin put the 2-year-old in a bed, and the toddler appeared to be asleep, the children told police. The oldest sister tried to wake the 2-year-old 10 to 15 minutes later, but when he wouldn’t wake, they called 911, they told police.

The children told police they had previously seen Hounkpatin physically abuse the 2-year-old and 3-year-old. That abuse included Hounkpatin squeezing the 3-year-old “around the chest to the point that his voice was hoarse” because the 3-year-old was sucking his thumb, the 11-year-old told police. She also told officers that she had protected one of her younger brothers from being hit by Hounkpatin and that she was afraid to go to school because Hounkpatin would be alone with her brothers.

An autopsy showed that the 2-year-old had rib fractures on his back and sides, including recent injuries and ones that were older and in the process of healing. Those injuries were consistent with being squeezed around the chest, the DA’s office said. The child died from asphyxiation due to chest compression, according to the Gwinnett County medical examiner.

Hounkpatin denied ever physically abusing the children and said he took the children into the room on the day of the 2-year-old’s death in order to tell them to be quiet, authorities said.

Hounkpatin will be sentenced on Aug. 22. The only options are life in prison without parole or life in prison with the possibility of parole.

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