Elwood man accused of killing toddler told dad ‘I lost it,’ prosecutors say
BY JANET LUNDQUIST firstname.lastname@example.org December 11, 2012 3:42PM
Updated: January 13, 2013 6:19AM
In the days after his fiancee’s toddler died from being hit in her head, the Elwood man charged with killing her called his father from the Will County jail, prosecutors said.
Lee K. Ponshe, 29, had told police he had been up all night with the teething 18-month-old the night before she died, and that he had hit the baby during the night.
“He said, ‘I lost it,’” during the conversation with his father, Assistant State’s Attorney James Long said.
Lawyers made their opening statements Tuesday in the jury trial for Ponshe, who was charged with murder in connection with the April 2009 death of Halli R. Burton, the daughter of a woman he met on an Internet dating website and who had moved into his home just three days before.
He was engaged to Jessi Dunlap of White Hall, Ill., but Ponshe was not the baby’s father.
While the toddler appeared to be fine the day after she was beaten, her heart stopped during an evening nap, prosecutors said. Prosecutors say her brain was slowly swelling since she was hit, which eventually killed her.
Her autopsy turned up 20 bruises around her head, prosecutors said.
“The pattern looked like a leopard,” Long said.
While Ponshe, who has a 7-year-old son of his own, admitted he hit the girl, he never said how many times he hit her or how hard he hit her, Ponshe’s attorney Gerald Kielian said.
Ponshe “took care of her like she was his own daughter, because that’s how he felt about Halli. Like that was his own daughter,” Kielian said.
Halli’s biological father, Joshua Burton, testified Tuesday that Halli was an easy sleeper, sometimes waking during the night like a typical baby.
Burton, 28, choked back tears as he confirmed photos of Halli that were taken the last time he saw her alive, during an Easter egg hunt in his hometown of White Hall.
“We flew a kite together,” Burton added.
On April 15, 2009, the girl was taken to Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet and pronounced dead at 8:05 p.m. The cause of her death was later determined to be blunt force trauma to her head.
A paramedic and emergency room doctor who treated Halli also testified Tuesday morning, saying they were not able to revive the girl at any point. Both said they saw a bruise on her cheek, an injury sustained days before her death.
Ponshe was in White Hall and had been watching the toddler while her mother was at work, prosecutors said. He told the girl’s mother Halli bruised her cheek when she fell off a toy and hit her face on the floor.
Kielian pointed out that the girl had also walked into the tailgate of a pickup truck and injured herself days before she died, and fell into a lower-level crawlspace of Ponshe’s house the day she and her mother moved in.
The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday.