A toddler’s death has raised serious questions about the justice system meant to protect her.
Stephanie and Frankie Williams face child abuse charges in the death of their 21-month-old daughter, Anayah, just three weeks after she was returned to them following concerns of abuse.
Officials were called to their Frederick, Md., home Friday at 11:50 p.m. for a report of a child who was not breathing, police said. The girl was taken to a hospital and later pronounced dead.
An investigation into the girl's death revealed suspicious circumstances, including visible marks and bruises on her body, police said. Her 24-year-old father was charged Saturday with child abuse resulting in death and other offenses.
On Sunday, 21-year-old Stephanie Williams defended her husband to WHAG-TV, saying he was a good man who loved his daughter very much.
But court documents say Frankie Williams "stated he punched the victim hard, and his description of hard was hard enough to hurt an adult."
“Whatever was going through his mind I know he wasn't in his right mind when he was doing these things," Stephanie Williams said.
Frankie Williams admitted repeatedly punching Anayah at their apartment last week while his wife was at work, investigators said. Stephanie Williams didn't get help for her daughter for six hours, police said. She told her husband she needed to call the doctor and "he said no because child protective services would get involved," according to court documents.
Stephanie Williams was charged Monday with child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury.
Frankie Williams also "did admit to assaulting the victim in 2012 when she received a fractured skull and fractured rib," according to court papers.
State’s Attorney Charlie Smith said they suspected but couldn't prove the parents abused the baby right after she was born in 2012. Anayah ended up with cerebral palsy.
The parents weren’t charged but lost custody of their daughter.
"We were unable to determine who at the time, but we did meet with Johns Hopkins,” Smith said. “They were convinced that it was no accident, but we couldn't pin it on anybody. To see that it happened again less than two years later is extremely troubling.”
For two years, the parents petitioned the court. After a series of hearings, an investigation by the state and home visits, a judge recently awarded full custody again, Smith said.
"Child Protective Services takes a look at this very hard,” Smith said. “They did actually remove the child from the home. It's up to the courts to determine whether the child is placed back in the custody of the birth parents."
Stephanie and Frankie Williams are each in jail on a $1 million bond.
"Hindsight’s 20/20,” Smith said. “It shouldn’t have happened because we believe both have been charged with serious felony child abuse cases and obviously that there's proof to prove both of those cases."
Frankie Williams also admitted beating the couple's other daughter, who is just 5 months old, police said. She is in temporary foster care.
Maryland Child Protective Services will not comment.