A Philadelphia jury yesterday found Tyrone Spellman guilty of third-degree murder and endangering the welfare of a child in the 2006 beating death of his 17-month-old daughter, Alayiah.
During the weeklong trial, prosecutors presented evidence to show that Spellman, 27, a devotee of Xbox-system video games, became enraged and hit the child repeatedly after she toppled and damaged the game player in a front room at the Brewerytown house he shared with his brother.
Prosecutors contended that the child's battered body was moved before EMTs arrived and posed near a barbell in another room to make the death look like an accident.
The jury's verdict, reached after eight hours of deliberations over two days, means that Spellman, who has three prior convictions on drug offenses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, will face a maximum penalty of 231/2 to 47 years in prison, said Assistant District Attorney James Berardinelli.
Berardinelli, who had asked for a first-degree-murder conviction, said he was satisfied with the jury's decision.
Spellman, also known as Anwar Salahuddin, of the 1500 block of North 29th Street, was arrested in September 2006 after an autopsy indicated that the toddler's skull had been shattered by blows to the head.
Throughout the trial, defense attorney Bobby Hoof maintained that his client was innocent and tried to cast suspicion on the child's mother, Mia Turman, who had a history of neglecting the child, according to Department of Human Services reports Hoof introduced as evidence.
An early indication of a troubling outcome for the defense came about an hour after the resumption of deliberations yesterday, when the jury of seven women and five men asked Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart the difference between first- and third-degree murder.
First-degree murder is a malicious assault committed with the "specific intent" to kill the victim; third-degree murder is the death that occurs as the unintended consequence of that assault, the judge said.
In his closing argument Monday, Berardinelli urged the jurors to conclude that the series of blows inflicted on the child's head were done "with a wickedness of disposition . . . a hardness of heart and extreme indifference" to the impact that such a battering would have on the girl's 17-pound body.
"That little baby's head cracked like a walnut," he said, urging the jury to return a verdict of first-degree murder because Spellman acted with reckless disregard for the consequences of his actions.
In a brief post-verdict conversation that he had with the jury forewoman, Berardinelli said, she told him that the panel came to the conclusion that Spellman acted "in a rage" but without intending to kill the child.