The bruises and scratches tipped off Geraldine Mason that something was wrong with her son Kejuan.
But the little boy’s legal guardian and godmother, Glenndria Morris, shrugged it off as horseplay between Kejuan and the other children living in her southwest Atlanta home.
Mason, following a mom’s intuition, didn’t believe it. She asked that her 3-year-old son be removed from Morris’ guardianship. On Oct. 18, a judge denied the request, records show.
Three days later Kejuan was dead.
As punishment for eating a cupcake, the toddler was allegedly beaten with a baseball bat on the head, stomach, back, arms and legs, according to a report from the Division of Family and Children Services. The report quoted an unnamed child inside the home and identified Lashirley Morris — the sister of Kejuan’s caretaker —as the one who wielded the bat. The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Kejuan died of blunt force trauma to the head and torso.
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Glenndria and Lashirley Morris were arrested on murder charges the following week.
A “roach-infested” apartment
Child welfare records show Kejuan had a rocky home life even before he and his twin brother ended up in Glenndria Morris’ cramped two-bedroom apartment.
The toddler and three of his siblings entered DFCS care after their mother was arrested on a reckless conduct charge last March. Mason would allegedly leave her children home alone, had anger issues and abused the children, according to DFCS documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request.
Once released from jail in April, Mason was reunited with one of her children, but requested temporary guardianship for Kejuan and his brother, according to DFCS’ records.
Mason suggested Morris as fictive kin, or someone who has close ties to the family, but not directly related to them.
But when Mason attempted to visit her children, Morris denied her access. She gave various excuses, including saying the children needed to “learn some manners and get some home training.”
Detectives investigating the home the day of Kejuan’s death described the home as “roach-infested” with at least seven people living in the two-bedroom space. A neighbor told DFCS the children were often left unattended and knocked on her door begging for food.
The apartment’s landlord said Morris, who was behind on rent, usually kept a “nasty” apartment. The kitchen was littered with dirty dishes and flies covered an empty pink cupcake container when a DFCS case manager inspected the home the day Kejuan died. Bags of clothes filled the back patio and mold, spider webs, roaches and flies were found throughout the home.
Placed over DFCS objections
Redacted child welfare records show the department objected to Glenndria Morris being named Kejuan’s guardian because she didn’t have an approved home evaluation, which the department requires.
DFCS chief operating officer Ashley Fielding Cooper told The AJC the agency prioritizes placement of children with relatives or fictive kin, but only after they and their homes have been vetted.
That didn’t happen in the case of Glenndria Morris because the court stepped in.
Guardianship papers indicate Fulton County Juvenile Court Judge Bradley Boyd and a visiting judge, referred to in DFCS documents only as “Judge Smith,” signed a June 15 petition approving the temporary order, despite DFCS’ objections.
It wasn’t clear why Mason’s request to remove Kejuan from Morris’ care was denied in October. A new hearing had been scheduled for November.
Boyd said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the case. Coy Johnson, director of the Fulton County child attorney’s office, said: “We are unable to comment due to pending litigation in juvenile court regarding Keujan’s siblings.
Once guardianship was granted, Cooper said DFCS was no longer involved.
“There was nothing in place to make sure checks were in place because the case (on our end) was closed,” she said. “When we received the report of a child death, we were back involved.”
“We tried to take care of him the best we could”
Police say Glenndria Morris’ account of what happened shifted and that she and her sister refused to cooperate with the investigation.
She first said she gave Kejuan — and four other children inside the home — cupcakes and that he began choking on his, according to a police report. Morris said she and and a man at the home gave the boy CPR but first responders took too long to arrive.
Then Glenndria Morris said Kejuan was choking on the cupcake, but that he was “fine breathing and talking later,” according to the report. Morris said Kejuan went to sleep, but was unresponsive when they checked on him, later according to the report. When he didn’t wake up, they called 911.
At a court hearing on Friday, H.D. Morris, father of the two sisters, sat awaiting their fate. He described Kejuan as a grandson to him.
“We tried to take care of him the best we could,” he said, choking back tears. “We’re holding on,” he said. “It hurts bad, but we’re holding on. We hate that it happened.”
Efforts to reach Mason’s attorney were unsuccessful.