By Jeff Lehr
MIAMI, Okla. —
Skye Reece told police and paramedics 10 months ago that she heard a thud and found 17-month-old Lanceton Hollenbeck lying unresponsive on his bedroom floor.
She suggested that he must have fallen off his bed.
Prosecutor Eddie Wyant told jurors Monday at the start of Reece’s trial on a first-degree murder charge that a doctor and medical examiner will testify that a fall to a carpeted floor cannot explain the severity of injuries that resulted in the boy’s death the following day at a hospital in Tulsa.
“Those bruises and fractures tell a story; they help tell the story of what happened,” Wyant said in opening statements at the trial in Ottawa County District Court.
The district attorney said there is no videotape of what took place Feb. 11 inside the apartment in Quapaw where Reece, 20, lived with the boy’s father, Ryan Nowlin. The prosecution has no murder weapon to introduce as evidence, he said. But the story that the medical evidence and witnesses will tell is that of his father’s girlfriend’s “unreasonable use of force in a moment of rage,” he said.
Wyant called it “a common-sense case” in which jurors should see that “the only logical” explanation of what happened to the boy is that his injuries were inflicted upon him with force by Reece.
Defense attorney Andrew Meloy told jurors the case boils down to what happened in just 20 minutes’ time and all testimony and evidence in the case “can be seen two different ways.”
“There’s only one person who saw what happened,” Meloy said, referring to his client.
The boy’s father had left for work, he said. Lanceton went to play in his room while Reece remained in their living room, feeding a 4-month-old son she had in common with Nowlin. She heard a thud with no subsequent crying, he said. She went to the children’s bedroom and found Lanceton on the floor, Meloy said in his opening statement.
The trial in District Judge Robert Haney’s courtroom began with jury selection Monday morning and is expected to last two or three days. Five witnesses testified for the state on Monday, including the boy’s father.
Nowlin said he and Reece were engaged to be married at the time. Since the death of Lanceton, they parted, and he now has custody of the son they have in common. He testified that his older boy, Lanceton, was living with his mother, Megan Hollenbeck, in Miami, but he would get him for visits on weekends.
Nowlin, who works at High Winds Casino, went to work shortly before 7:30 p.m. on the Saturday in question. He said that he had been playing with Lanceton, and the boy began crying like he usually did when he left for work.
“So I picked him up and gave him a kiss, and set him next to Skye and Clayton (their infant son),” he told the court.
Shortly after he got to work, Reece called him and told him to come home quick. He rushed back to find emergency medical technicians already at the house. Testimony indicated that Reese first called her mother who advised her to call 911.
Officer Andrew Kinder of the Quapaw Police Department testified that he was the first help to arrive. Reece was holding the boy and supporting his head on her shoulder.
“He was unresponsive and intermittently gasping for air,” Kinder said.
The child’s head and hair were damp, and he had a bump above and behind his left ear, the officer said. Kinder said Reece told him that she’d heard a thud and found him unconscious on the floor. She told him that she gave him some rescue breaths and then took him to the bathroom and wet his head with a cloth in an effort to revive him.
Richard “Buck” Rogers, an emergency medical technician with the Quapaw Fire Department, testified that the boy’s eyes were “pinpointed” and unresponsive to light when he arrived at the house. The child was gasping for breath and they suctioned his airway, he said.
Later, as the child was being taken to a medical helicopter, Rogers said he asked Reece how the child had fallen. He said she told him that he fell off his bed and showed him a small child’s bed in his room.
Randall and Shannon Foye, a couple who lived in the same four-plex as Reece and Nowlin but were not acquainted with them, told the court that they felt “tremors” in the floor of their apartment the night of Feb. 11.
Shannon Foye said she felt “one large tremor in the floor” as she was doing laundry in their back bedroom. The sensation caused her to go out in the living room and ask her husband if he had dropped something, she said. Randall Foye said he was playing a video game at the time in the living room, which has a wall in common with the apartment in which Reece and Nowlin lived.
“I felt three real hard bumps,” he told the court. “I say ‘felt’ because I could feel them through the concrete (beneath their living room carpet). They made my feet move.”
He said the “bumps” were spaced a couple seconds apart and were followed by a “scream or shriek” from the other side of their living room wall. On cross-examination by Meloy, Randall Foye acknowledged that there are four apartment altogether in the building and that one of the other two was occupied. He also acknowledged that the scream or shriek “sounded like a man to me.”
Wyant asked Foye if it could have been a woman, and he said he believes it could have been.