The Arkansas Court of Appeals has upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a Drew County woman sentenced last year to 15 years in the death of her 19-month-old daughter.
A Drew Count jury, in January 2019, found Kannikka Jenkins guilty of first-degree murder in the August 2017 death of her daughter, Talondon Jacobs’ death and sentenced her to serve fifteen years’ incarceration.
On appeal, Jenkins, now 28, argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction and that Circuit Court Judge Sam Pope erred when he denied her motions for a directed verdict. The Arkansas Court of Appeals, however, found that there was sufficient evidence to support Jenkins conviction, according to an Arkansas Court of Appeals opinion written by Judge Waymond M. Brown.
Jenkins, on August 30, 2017, took her daughter, Talondon Jacobs to the Drew Memorial Hospital emergency room. She arrived at 5:04 a.m., which conflicts with her statement to police in which she said she arrived at approximately 1:30 a.m. When Talondon arrived at the hospital, she was not breathing. Jenkins claimed that Talondon had choked on her milk, and after attempts to clear her airway were unsuccessful, she rushed the child to the hospital. Attempts to resuscitate the child failed and she was pronounced dead less than an hour after arriving in the emergency room.
Talondon’s death was caused by blunt-force injuries to her head and torso, complicated by suffocation, according to Dr. Jennifer Forsyth, a forensic pathologist with the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory. Forsyth ruled the manner of death a homicide.
At Jenkins’ January 2019 trial, a State Police investigator testified that he executed a search warrant on Jenkins’ home where he removed a sample of the mattress on Jenkins’ bed, a baby blanket with a stain, a pillow with a dark stain, a child’s pink pants with a substance near the leg, and several cotton swabs of other red stains. The items were submitted to the state Crime Lab to determine if the items contained blood or bodily fluids matching Talondon. Testing determined that only the stain on the mattress was a positive match.
At trial, the jury heard a recorded interview with police. In that interview, Jenkins repeatedly said that Talondon, on the day prior to her death, was “fine” and “nothing appeared wrong to me” and “nothing seemed wrong with her, I swear to God. She was fine.” She said that she woke up in the night, gave Talondon a bottle, and went back to bed, which was part of her normal routine.
Jenkins said she later heard Talondon throw up and got up to check on her. She said Talondon was choking on her milk and could not breathe. Jenkins claimed that she tried to clear Talondon’s airway and “get the milk out” but was unable to do so. She said she then rushed Talondon to the hospital, arriving at approximately 1:30 a.m.
When confronted with the fact that Talondon had a ruptured bowel and a broken clavicle, Jenkins denied harming her daughter and expressed her belief that no one else in the family had hurt Talondon. She said she was unaware of any accidents that could have caused the injuries, but suggested that Talondon may have fallen off of a small trampoline in her daughter’s bedroom.
Jenkins said “there was no one in my house that night other than me and my children.” This statement conflicts with Jenkins’ previous statement. In that statement, she said her boyfriend and her father were in the home when she rushed Talondon to the hospital.
Dr. Forsyth testified that Talondon’s cause of death was blunt-force injuries of the head and torso complicated by suffocation, and that the manner of death was homicide. She testified that there were bruises on Talondon’s forehead and cheeks, as well as cuts, abrasions, and bruises on the inside of her lips. Forsyth said such injuries in young children are indicative of pressure over the mouth.
Forsyth also noted that on Talondon’s right side, her eighth, ninth, and tenth ribs had been broken as evidenced by a “callous” that forms when the bone begins to heal. She also found fractures to her left clavicle and to her left ninth rib. It was Forsyth’s opinion that those injuries were less than 24 hours old because there was no sign of healing. She testified that there was also evidence of blunt-force trauma to her internal organs; specifically, there was bleeding near the dome of her liver and near the head of her pancreas. Forsyth also found that her colon was ruptured. It was her opinion that the ruptured colon was the result of a blow to the abdomen. None of the injuries to Talondon’s internal organs showed evidence of healing.
Forsyth testified that it was her opinion that Talondon’s injuries were not the result of a fall from a trampoline. “Injuries to multiple parts of the body, the head, the torso, and the mouth are at different stages of healing,” Forsyth said. “It certainly wouldn’t be from a single-incident fall from a low height.”
When the state rested its case, Jenkins, through her attorney, moved for a directed verdict arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction because the jury would have to resort to speculation to find her guilty of first-degree murder. Circuit Court Judge Sam Pope denied the motion.
The defense then rested without calling any witnesses. Jenkins renewed her motion for directed verdict. Pope, again denied the motion.
The jury then found Jenkins guilty of first-degree murder in Talondon’s death and sentenced her to 15 years in prison.
In her appeal, Jenkins argued that the State failed to present substantial evidence that she committed first-degree murder.
In reviewing her appeal, the Arkansas Court of Appeals noted that Talondon was determined to have died from blunt-force injuries and suffocation. Dr. Forsyth testified that Talondon sustained many injuries to her bones and internal organs, all at various stages of healing. Talondon also exhibited injuries to her mouth that are consistent with something being pressed over her mouth.
Jenkins indicated that Talondon was “fine” and that she had not noticed that anything was wrong with her or that she was in pain. However, the autopsy revealed that Talondon sustained many injuries, which Dr. Forsyth stated “would be painful to anyone.”
There were other inconsistencies in appellant’s statement. For instance, she claimed that she rushed Talondon to the hospital at 1:30 a.m., yet she did not arrive at the hospital until 5:04 a.m. Upon arrival, Talondon was already cold to the touch, indicating that she had stopped breathing long before she was brought to the hospital. Jenkins’ only explanation for Talondon’s internal injuries was a possible fall from a small trampoline; however, Dr. Forsyth discounted that theory. A defendant’s improbable explanation of suspicious circumstances may be considered evidence of guilt.
“Given our standard of review and viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, we hold that the evidence adduced at trial constitutes substantial evidence and was sufficient to support appellant’s conviction of first-degree murder in the death of Talondon,” Judge Waymon Brown wrote. “Accordingly, we affirm.”