For the first year of her life, foster parents cared for little Aleigha Lee. When she was reunited with her own parents, she survived only months past her second birthday.
Though her parents told investigators various accounts of how the young girl was injured, Aleigha’s head-to-toe injuries were too severe to have been accidental, arrest warrants state. Her leg was burned so severely, it was in a state of necrosis, meaning the cells and tissues were dying, according to investigators.
A Coweta County court program reported the parents had cleaned up their act after completing an 18-month family court program. In 2016, Aleigha’s parents Daniel Lenwood Lee and Elizabeth Lynn Lee temporarily lost custody of their children because they were addicted to methamphetamine and living in a van. The couple enrolled in the family court program, and once it was completed, the family was reunited in August 2017. The Lees were clean from drugs, had a place to live and jobs, and were featured in a story by The Newnan Times-Herald.
But on Sunday, Aleigha was found unresponsive in the family’s Senoia home. In a frantic phone call to 911, Daniel Lee said his daughter was unresponsive.
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“We woke up and she’s barely breathing,” Lee said during the call, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “She’s like really white. Please hurry!”
It was too late for Aleigha, who died after being taken to Piedmont Newnan Hospital. There, investigators first saw the child’s injuries, which covered most of her body. Her parents were arrested, and on Friday both remained in the Coweta jail, where they are being held without bond.
Aleigha was one of six Lee children. The other five remained in protective custody on Friday.
Citing the ongoing investigation into Aleigha’s death, the state Department of Family and Children Services and the Coweta juvenile court judge declined to comment on the case. The prosecutor in the case did not return a call seeking comment. But details in the arrest warrants indicate horrific abuse, including severe burns and blunt force trauma.
“It was very apparent that (the child) endured different injuries from her head to her toes. Her exposed body revealed bruises in different shapes, sizes and stages beginning from her head to her face, ribs, back, buttocks, arms, legs, feet and toes,” the warrants state. “… There were other injuries which again were unusual marks on her face, ears, chest and back.”
An autopsy conducted by the GBI uncovered additional injuries, according to investigators. Aleigha’s body showed evidence of blunt force trauma to both the abdomen, resulting in a lacerated liver, and her mouth, the arrest warrants state. Her brain was swollen, she was dehydrated and had an internal vaginal laceration, the autopsy showed. The child also had handprints on her buttocks and rear back.
Elizabeth Lee, 29, has been charged with felony murder and aggravated battery, and her husband Daniel Lee, 28, has been charged with child cruelty in the second degree.
In an interview with deputies, Elizabeth Lee said Aleigha had burned her leg herself on Oct. 24 by pulling a hair straightener from a bathroom counter. Lee said the child had been unable to walk and had to be carried, but that she had been been following a pharmacist’s advice and kept the wound bandaged, her warrant states. The mother told investigators she didn’t seek medical attention because the family didn’t have insurance, and she feared DFACS would take her children. Lee admitted she had struck Aleigha after she found the child playing in a toilet, the warrant states.
Daniel Lee told investigators he knew the child had been burned, but his wife kept the wound covered because he “has a weak stomach,” his arrest warrant states. Lee said he worked long hours during the week and hadn’t seen all of his daughter’s injuries.
Over the summer, the couple were celebrated as a success story for the family court program. On Friday, the court reported there had been no indication of child abuse while the Lees were participating in its program.
“The staff of the accountability court program are devastated by this horrific tragedy,” Jennifer Barnett, accountability court manager, said Friday. “We are saddened by the loss of little Aleigha, who along with her siblings was returned to her parents’ home in August of 2017. In the underlying dependency case, there was never an issue of physical abuse of the children.”
The court was no longer monitoring the Lee family, Barnett said.
“Mr. and Mrs. Lee successfully completed every aspect of their case plan, which dissolved any dependency that existed at that time … thus eliminating any jurisdiction that the court had over the family.”