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January 20, 2018

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Family friend found guilty in baby’s beating death


Sam Morris

Deputy Public Defender Scott Coffee talks to Mariann Harris after her arraignment in district court Thursday, September 8, 2011. Harris pleaded not guilty to the beating death of 14-month-old Dyon Johnson.

Mariann Harris Arraignment

Mariann Harris is arraigned in district court Thursday, September 8, 2011. Harris pleaded not guilty to the beating death of 14-month-old Dyon Johnson. Launch slideshow »

Jannett Simms held her face in her hands as she waited to hear the verdict today for the woman accused of fatally bashing her 14-month-old daughter's head with a blunt object.

When the first guilty came, Simms cried out, “Yes!” and collapsed into a relative's arms, bawling.

Three more guiltys would follow for Mariann Harris, Simms’ former best friend and the godmother of Simms' now deceased child.

The 25-year-old Harris stood stoically in a cream-color turtleneck and khakis, her family members shaking their heads and weeping quietly behind her as the verdict was read.

After two days of deliberation, a jury found Harris guilty of murdering Dyon Johnson on Aug. 12, 2011.

Harris had been watching Dyon along with her own two children that day.

The jury found Harris guilty on all counts, including child abuse and neglect with a deadly weapon and two counts of child abuse because Harris' own children witnessed the attack.

“We are shocked and disappointed and think that an innocent woman has been convicted,” said Scott Coffee, Harris’ public defender. Coffee said he will be filing a motion for a mistrial. He wouldn’t say why he was motioning for a mistrial.

The defense painted the father of Harris’ children, Armani Foster, as a potential suspect because he was in the home for about an hour during the time the injuries may have occurred.

Both sides zeroed in on Foster’s aloofness toward the children, painting him as someone who only cared about playing video games.

“He’s easy to dislike, but just being not likable doesn’t make you a murderer,” prosecutor Dena Rinetti said in closing arguments. “Everything in this case points to one person, and one person only, and that’s the defendant Mariann Harris.”

Foster had testified that Dyon was fine when he left the home for the evening.

Coffee also raised questions during trial about how prosecutors couldn’t point to a weapon that caused the blunt force trauma that killed Dyon, noting that the most likely weapon — a green metal pipe — wasn’t admitted into evidence.

Before trial, prosecution and defense agreed that, if convicted, Harris would get a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

Her sentencing is set for 9 a.m. Dec. 5.

After the verdict was read, Rinetti embraced Simms. The pair rocked back and fourth as Simms, who is pregnant, sobbed.

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