Erica White sniffled as she walked into the courtroom Monday where her fate is set to be decided after what is expected to be a two-week murder trial.
The Cobb County woman faces several charges in the poisoning death of her disabled 2-year-old son, Tyrael McFall, in November 2014.
Police originally charged White, 45, and her boyfriend of a few months, Michael Schullerman, with killing the boy and taking out several credit cards in the dead boy’s name by falsifying information.
Schullerman and White met online a couple of months before Tyrael’s death.
He pleaded guilty in the case nearly two months ago to about a dozen charges but not the murder counts.
He was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison on a racketeering charge, which White also faces, for financial fraud — part of which, according to the indictment, included failing to notify Social Security of the boy’s death so they could keep receiving benefits.
White is being represented by Marietta defense attorney, Bryan Lumpkin, who also represented Justin Ross Harris — the Cobb man convicted in 2016 of purposely leaving his young son to die in a hot car. Superior Court Judge Mary Staley Clark presided over the Harris trial and is also assigned to White’s case.
Lumpkin argued that White has been shattered by her son’s death, turning to drugs after Tyrael died. He also said Schullerman had a lot to do with the series of events the night of the boy’s death.
Like Harris, White faces a charge of malice murder, which implies intentional killing.
“Miss Erica White was a broken woman who ultimately has faults, and we’ll deal with those, but at the end of the day the question is did she intentionally kill Tyrael McFall,” Lumpkin said.
He noted hat Tyrael had surgery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta where a device was installed in his neck to help with seizures three days before he died.
“ ... This is not somebody who is giving up on a child, this is someone who is giving her all,” he said.
At the end of Lumpkin’s opening statement Monday, he implored the jury.
“Don’t extend the horror any longer that Erica White has to face,” he said.
The state portrayed White as a liar and a thief who killed her blind and severely brain-damaged son to be free of him so she could travel the world.
The ailments the boy suffered almost all his life were caused by his father, Joseph McFall, shaking, throwing and hitting him at eight-weeks-old. His father cracked both his son’s arms and a rib.
McFall and White had been married less than a year when they separated in October 2012, court records show. White wrote that her reason for the split was his cheating and severe beating of Tyrael.
In April 2014, McFall was sentenced to 20 years in prison. At the time, White said she’d struggled every day to care for Tyrael and his injuries.
“This woman always spent as much as came in, always teetering on the edge of insolvency,” said prosecutor John Melvin in his opening statement.
He put up a picture of one of the credit cards White allegedly took out in her son’s name. It was a Capital One card with a tiger on it.
“Her greed weaves a tapestry of selfishness that allows her to steal, causes her to lie and propels her to poison,” the prosecutor said.
Melvin vowed to prove “with scientific certainty” that White is to blame for how Tyrael died, saying Tylenol No. 3 — which has codeine — was ground up into his gastric bypass tube.
Melvin touched on the financial fraud charges that White faces, but focused on the murder counts.
Prosecutors called as witnesses firefighters, police officers and hospital staff who were working the night Tyrael died.
White gasped and cried out when a photo of her son’s body was shown on a large television screen. It showed a white sheet with two blood stains covering his chest, but his face with eyes closed was visible.
White looked away, covering her mouth.
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