Elwood man found guilty of murder for killing toddler
BY JANET LUNDQUIST firstname.lastname@example.org December 18, 2012 2:42PM
Updated: January 20, 2013 6:22AM
A 29-year-old Elwood man will spend the rest of his life behind bars, convicted Tuesday of first-degree murder in the death of his former fiancee’s 18-month-old daughter.
Lee K. Ponshe was accused of punching the toddler in the head and back after she woke up crying in the early morning of April 15, 2009, causing injuries that ultimately killed her.
A Will County jury deliberated for about two hours before issuing the guilty verdict. Ponshe now faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison due to the age of his victim, authorities said. He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 25.
Ponshe was charged with murder for the death of Halli R. Burton, the daughter of a woman he met on an Internet dating website and who had moved into his home days before.
He was engaged to Jessi Dunlap of White Hall, Ill., but Ponshe was not the baby’s father.
“There are no words that can accurately describe the feeling, but after hearing the guilty verdict, a sense of relief came over me,” said Josh Burton, Halli’s father, in a written statement. “I’m just extremely happy justice was served and thankful for everyone’s hard work who contributed to the conviction in this case.
“With that said, what (Ponshe’s) future now holds will never compare to the pain his actions caused,” he said.
While her mother said the toddler appeared to be fine the day after she was beaten, the girl slipped into a coma during an evening nap, prosecutors said. A doctor testified that the girl’s brain had been gradually swelling since she was hit, which eventually stopped her breathing and her heart.
Ponshe initially told police he didn’t touch Burton, but later admitted he hit her twice in the head, prosecutors said. Autopsy photos showed upwards of 20 bruises covering the toddler’s scalp.
“Lee Ponshe committed an act of monstrous violence against an innocent child who was under his care and protection,” said State’s Attorney James Glasgow. “This heartless abuser can spend the rest of his life in a dark prison cell contemplating his horrific crime.”
Ponshe’s attorney Gerald Kielian declined to comment on the verdict.
Ponshe’s family leaned on each other and sobbed after the verdict was read and while Judge Daniel Rozak polled the jurors. Members of Burton’s family were quiet when the verdict was read, then hugged each other in the hallway outside the courtroom.
During their closing arguments, prosecutors mentioned a phone conversation Ponshe had with his father from the county jail where he told his dad he didn’t beat Burton any differently than he beat his own son, who was 4 years old at the time.
“Is there really any doubt about what happened?” said Assistant State’s Attorney Christopher Regis. “You’ve got a dead kid, you’ve got a guy the next day after she dies saying, ‘Yeah, I beat her.’”
Ponshe’s attorney, Ira Goldstein, said the blows to her head were not enough to kill her.
“Whatever Mr. Ponshe did ... he did not intend to hurt the child to such a degree like the state contends,” Goldstein said.
Will County Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff McKenzie said he was glad that justice was served for Burton and hoped her family could feel a sense of closure as they grieve her loss.
“Everyone involved in the case worked extra hard to make sure that Halli’s killer was brought to justice,” McKenzie said. “Detective Wayne Ratajack and (retired) Det. Denise Powers did an extremely professional job on a very difficult case. It’s always difficult to work cases involving victims who are children, and these two detectives did an amazing job and they did a complete and thorough investigation in the midst of an emotionally charged situation.”