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Mother's testimony about toddler's death brings judge to tears

TAMPA — Nayashia Williams woke up early on May 7, 2014, to the sound of her daughter calling for her. It was the last time the young mother's mornings would begin with a summons from Myla Presley, who couldn't yet climb over the mesh fencing around the playpen she used as a bed.

But that day, all Williams knew was that it was the first time her then-boyfriend Deandre Gilmore would babysit the 19-month-old girl while she was at work. The two spent most of that Wednesday inside the couple's sparse Sulphur Springs duplex. Then, about 7:20 p.m., Gilmore and his mother called 911 saying Myla wasn't breathing or opening her eyes.

The toddler had fallen and hit her head in the bathtub while Gilmore was getting her clothes from her bedroom, they told the dispatcher. But the Hillsborough County medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, saying the bleeding in her brain indicated she had been beaten.

In a Hillsborough County courtroom Tuesday morning, Williams scarcely glanced at Gilmore, who has spent three years in county jail on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse for the daughter's death.

"When I went to her bedside, all I could see were bruises," Williams said, tears rolling down her cheek as she recounted her daughter's injuries. Circuit Judge Samantha Ward wiped away tears, too, at one point dismissing the jury and abruptly leaving the courtroom, warning prosecutors that asking Williams if she held her daughter was "not appropriate."

Testimony from doctors, responders from the Tampa Police Department and Tampa Fire Rescue, Gilmore's mother and a Domino's pizza delivery driver who brought Gilmore and Myla their lunch that afternoon pieced together events surrounding the toddler's death.

When Myla arrived at St. Joseph's Hospital, she wasn't breathing, her heart had stopped and she was brain dead, emergency room doctor Jami Gibson told the court. She died from bleeding and swelling in her brain after suffering multiple hemorrhages consistent with blunt-force trauma, Gibson said.

Jurors and a courtroom full of Jefferson High School students observing the trial for a class in the school's criminal justice program saw photos of the girl lying in a hospital bed.

She had dark bruises on her forehead and abdomen, around her eye and along her hairline. Large blisters were visible on both ears and her lip was bruised and cut.

The small, purple Dora the Explorer panties she was wearing when police arrived at the apartment were stained with blood — an indication of abdominal trauma, according to Myla's autopsy.

On the recording of the 911 call played Tuesday in Hillsborough County court, Gilmore can be heard screaming in the background as the dispatcher attempts to tell his mother how to perform CPR, crying out, "I can't f- - - - - - do this" and "she's coughing water" as his mother relayed instructions.

But photos from the apartment showed the bathtub was empty and dry. There were several small drops of blood on the bedsheets by the toddler's playpen and dark stains on a small, long-sleeved blue T-shirt in her bedroom.

Gilmore, now 34, denied ever hitting the girl, pleading not guilty to both charges and maintaining that her death was an accident, according to a Department of Children and Families report.

"Sometimes things unfortunately happen, but that doesn't mean they're intentional," Gilmore's attorney, Theda James, told the jury Tuesday. "Myla Presley lost her life, but it was not intentional. It was not aggravated child abuse. It was accidental."

Testimony in Gilmore's murder trial resumes at 9 a.m. today and is expected to last through Friday evening, Judge Ward said.

Contact Anastasia Dawson at adawson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

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