Parents who allegedly put baby's body in suitcase, threw it away, plead not guilty to child abuse
LOS ANGELES, Calif. (FOX 11) - The parents of a 6-month-old boy who allegedly admitted leaving the infant's body inside a suitcase in a trash bin at a Los Angeles-area shopping center pleaded not guilty on Thursday to a felony child abuse charge.
Kiana Williams, 32, and Adam Manson, 34, are charged with one count each of child abuse resulting in the death of their son, Jacsun Manson, whose body is believed to be at the El Sobrante Landfill in Corona.
Authorities determined that trash that had been in the green waste bin was taken to the landfill after being picked up at the mall on Jan. 15. But Culver City police announced Monday that they would no longer search the landfill for the boy's remains.
"After weeks of research, consultation with subject matter experts from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and discussions with Waste Management and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, the Culver City Police Department has decided to discontinue the search of the El Sobrante Landfill for the remains of Jacsun Manson,'' according to the police statement.
"We make this decision with a heavy heart after an exhaustive investigation was unable to narrow down the possible location of Jacsun's remains within the landfill to a point that would make continuing the search reasonable,'' the police statement said.
At a hearing in which Williams and Manson were ordered April 11 to stand trial, Culver City Police Department Detective Tobias Raya told the judge that the two -- who didn't disclose their son's whereabouts when questioned by various authorities -- acknowledged in police interviews in February that they had left a suitcase containing the boy's body in a trash bin at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw mall.
They said they did so after waking up to find their son unresponsive inside a South Los Angeles motel room and unsuccessfully trying to revive him, according to Raya.
Williams, who described herself to police as a licensed vocational nurse, initially said the infant had died in a PT Cruiser, Raya told the judge. But the baby's mother subsequently told police that it had happened in the motel room after police gave her a handwritten letter from Manson imploring her
to "tell them the truth!'' according to the detective.
In the letter, the boy's father wrote that the couple's baby deserves to be found "so they can find out why'' and so they can move on.
"We are good people who made a bad choice,'' he wrote in the letter to Williams, in which he wrote that he loves her and noted that he wished they had called 911 as she had suggested.
Williams acknowledged that she had put her son's body in a suitcase and considered two burial sites before she and Manson drove to the shopping center to leave the body in the trash bin, according to the detective. She said Manson threw the suitcase into the tall bin after she unsuccessfully tried to dispose of it, the detective said.
She told police that she had smoked marijuana but stopped using all other drugs while she was pregnant with her son, and used methamphetamine shortly before and after his death, according to the detective. She also acknowledged having fled earlier with the boy because she feared that the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services would take him away, the detective testified.
In a jailhouse interview in February, Manson also acknowledged using methamphetamine and said he became really upset after the two each unsuccessfully tried to perform CPR on their baby, Raya testified.
"He did not see Kiana packing Jacsun in the suitcase,'' the detective said, recounting an interview in which Manson cried.
During a search in February, a dog trained to find human remains went to the back of the PT Cruiser and a bed in the motel room, Raya said.
A woman who works at a building near where the couple was arrested told authorities that she had seen them with a "live, fat, happy baby Jacsun'' about Jan. 1.
"She said the baby was cute. He was laughing. She couldn't take her eyes off him,'' the detective said.
In testimony April 10, a prosecution witness said she contacted the Department of Children and Family Services out of concern for the conditions in which the baby had been living at an emergency family shelter in Culver City about 1 1/2 months before his death.
Ariana Herrera, a housing case manager for the shelter, testified that she noticed trash, rotten food and drug paraphernalia in the unit, along with cigarette butts and ashes on the floor near a baby bouncer in mid-November 2018. She said she contacted the shelter's program manager and met with the baby's parents to express her concerns about the "deplorable'' living conditions before notifying authorities.
"I called because the baby, I thought that he was unsafe,'' the shelter's housing case manager testified.
Another prosecution witness, Department of Public Social Services eligibility worker Vicky Lee, testified that she called a DCFS hotline to report that there was a "reasonable suspicion of abuse'' after Manson spoke with her in January and denied having any contact with the baby or Williams since last Nov. 13.
Manson denied that the baby was his son, despite being listed as the father on Jacsun's birth certificate, and he reported that Williams was in jail and that the boy might be with her new boyfriend, according to Lee.
Cristina Herrera, a supervising DCFS social worker, testified that Williams said in a jailhouse interview in January that she wasn't sure where the baby was, but that the child might be with Manson.
"She said, `I'm sorry for what I have done,''' Herrera said, adding that the woman said she wanted to go into a drug treatment program.
Herrera said she helped to file a missing person's report about the boy on Jan. 25 following an investigation into addresses that Williams had provided.
"We wanted to make sure he was safe,'' she said, noting that Williams reported that she had been a daily methamphetamine user, that the family had been homeless and that the baby had not been seen by a doctor.
Williams and Manson were arrested Jan. 3 by Los Angeles police after being found in a stolen U-Haul vehicle. Los Angeles police Officer Luke Coyle -- who identified the two in court -- testified that he didn't see a baby in the vehicle with them and that neither of the two mentioned that they had a baby. He said Manson identified himself with a different last name.
Another LAPD officer, Carlos Aguirre, testified that he saw Manson on Feb. 2 near a U-Haul vehicle that had been reported stolen. The officer -- who said there is video of the incident from his body-worn camera -- told the judge that he believed Manson may have said he couldn't go to jail that night because he needed to see his baby, but didn't list it in his police report because he didn't know the relevance of the baby at that time.
Williams and Manson remain jailed in lieu of $5 million bail pending their next court appearance May 22 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
CNS contributed to this report.