Crime: Murder trial underway for foster dad accused of killing boy - PressFrom - US
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CrimeMurder trial underway for foster dad accused of killing boy

22:35  15 may  2019
22:35  15 may  2019 Source:   courier-journal.com

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Murder trial underway for foster dad accused of killing boy© Provided by Gannett Co., Inc. Defendant Billy Embry-Martin, left, is on trial in Elizabethtown, accused of the 2017 death of Hunter Payton, 4, a foster child staying in Embry-Martin's home.

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. — Hunter Payton, his grandmothers say, was a loving, playful child adored by his large, extended family.

"He was an angel," said Linda Payton, his paternal grandmother, from Caneyville.

"He was Mama's boy," said Willodean Cross, his maternal grandmother, also from Caneyville, who said she was present for Hunter's birth. "He was the politest little boy."

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Now Hunter's death at age 4 from an injury in an Elizabethtown-area foster home two years ago is the subject of a criminal trial that began this week in Hardin Circuit Court, with the foster father, Billy Embry-Martin, accused of murder.

With a record number — nearly 10,000 — of Kentucky children in foster care, Hunter's relatives say the case raises questions about the safety of foster homes as well as state oversight of private agencies that operate foster homes, including the one where Hunter was placed.

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But Wednesday, in her opening statement, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Teresa Logsdon said the case isn't about any of those things. She urged jurors to focus on the victim.

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"This case is about a little boy named Hunter," Logsdon said, a boy who died of an inflicted head injury on May 10, 2017.

"Death. It came all too soon for Hunter Payton," she said.

But Embry-Martin's lawyer, James Hafley, said Hunter died after he fell from a bench while eating a snack in the kitchen of his foster home, striking his head. He said his client is innocent of murder.

"This is a tragic accident and not a murder case," he said.

Murder trial underway for foster dad accused of killing boy© Family photo Hunter Payton, 4, died in 2017 after he was injured in a Kentucky foster home. The foster father is on trial for murder.

Hafley said Embry-Martin, 34, is a pediatric nurse who was working third shift and came home about 6 a.m. on the day of Hunter's fatal injury to get the older children in the home ready for school. After a few hours sleep, he rose with Hunter and a 2-year old foster child and looked after them because his husband, Travis Embry-Martin, worked during the day.

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"He is a loving, patient person," Hafley said of his client, a slender man wearing glasses and with hair pulled into a neat ponytail who sat quietly beside him in the courtroom. "He is not a murderer."

Billy Embry-Martin was alone with the two children on the May afternoon in 2017 when he reported that Hunter, seated on a bench at a kitchen island, apparently fell off the bench while Embry-Martin turned away to put dishes in the sink, Hafley said.

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Hunter jumped up and said "Me OK," before taking a few steps, then collapsed and began having seizures, Hafley said. Embry-Martin rushed to aid the boy and called 911 for help, Hafley said.

Hunter was taken by ambulance to the local hospital in Elizabethtown, then, because of the seriousness of his injuries, airlifted within an hour to Norton Children's Hospital. He died two days later.

Hunter died from a skull fracture and closed head injuries two months after he was removed from his parents' home by state social service officials and placed in the foster home of Travis and Billy Embry-Martin.

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The two men, who married in 2013, served as foster parents for Necco, a private children's agency that contracts with Kentucky to provide foster care services. Travis Embry-Martin is member of the Army and works at Fort Knox, and Billy Embry-Martin is a licensed practical nurse, according to records of the case.

Hunter was removed from his parents' care in March 2017 because of alleged drug abuse and neglect in the home. Both parents tested positive for drugs including methamphetamine and opioids, according to state social service records.

Hunter's grandmothers say Hunter's parents are devastated by the loss and are not attending the trial because it is too painful.

Cross and Payton are among about half a dozen family members attending the trial, all wearing matching blue T-shirts bearing Hunter's name, his date of birth and date of death in a heart surrounded by angel wings.

They plan to be there every day even though some of the medical testimony and other details are hard to take, they said.

Several of them wept quietly when the prosecutor displayed photos of Hunter taken from the pediatric intensive care unit at Norton Children's Hospital and asked pediatric forensic nurse Emily Neal to identify them.

Murder trial underway for foster dad accused of killing boy© Alton Strupp/Courier Journal Family members wear custom shirts with the birth date and date of death of Hunter Payton, who died from head injuries while in the foster care of Billy and husband Travis Embry-Martin in 2017. May 13, 2019

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An aunt, Mary Haynes, said family members had kept vigil at the hospital while Hunter was there.

"We watched this little fellow lay there for three days and suffer," she said.

Payton said family members are angry that state officials had Hunter removed from his parent's home for his own safety, only to have him die in foster care within two months.

Billy Embry-Martin was charged with murder last year following an investigation by Radcliff police and state Child Protective Services officials.

A review by the University of Louisville Division of Pediatric Forensic Medicine found Embry-Martin's explanation of the boy falling unlikely and said the massive skull fracture and other injuries including cuts and bruises Hunter suffered to be caused by "inflicted child abuse."

The state medical examiner ruled that Hunter's injuries were inflicted and not accidental, according to records.

Dr. Melissa Currie, a certified forensic pediatrician, was to testify later Wednesday for the prosecution.

Hardin Circuit Judge Ken Howard said he expects the trial to last about a week.

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Deborah Yetter: 502-582-4228; [email protected]; Twitter: @d_yetter.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Murder trial underway for foster dad accused of killing boy

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