Foster Mom and Boyfriend Charged with Manslaughter, Murder in Death of 3-Year-Old in Dakota County

April 16, 2018 10:48 PM

Zeporia Fortenberry was charged Monday in Dakota County with two counts of second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of 3-year-old Zayden Lawson, a foster child in her care. The 31-year-old's next court appearance will be April 25. 

Her live-in boyfriend, 27-year-old Charles Homich, was charged last week with three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of first-degree manslaughter for the same crime.


RELATED: No Arrests Yet in Foster Care Death of 3-Year-Old

According to the criminal complaint, police and medics were dispatched to a townhome in Eagan on the afternoon of June 7, 2017. There, they found 3-year-old Zayden Lawson lying on his back on the living room floor, unconscious and not breathing.

Medics were unable to revive Lawson. He was transported to St. Paul Children's Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The complaint states an autopsy performed the next day showed his death was due to multiple blunt force injuries and was ruled a homicide.

The complaint alleges officers spoke with Fortenberry, who said she lived in the home with her two biological children as well as Lawson and a younger brother. Further investigation reportedly revealed Homich was living in the home as well.

RELATED: Eagan Police Investigating 3-Year-Old's Death as Homicide

The complaint claims the foster mother said Homich was caring for the children on the evening of June 6, after a friend had babysat Lawson overnight the night before. The foster mother reportedly said that friend had texted her to say that Lawson may have eaten some baking soda.

But, the foster mother said he was behaving and eating normally all day on June 6.

The next day, though, the complaint states the foster mother said Lawson vomited a couple of times during the day and "was acting lazy."

Eventually, she said Homich told her to call 911 when she noticed the boy wasn't conscious or breathing.

RELATED: Eagan Police Investigate Death of 3-Year-Old Boy

The complaint alleges the foster mother told police she believed Homich had something to do with Lawson's death, and that in a conversation after his death he allegedly told her he was going to tell the police "what happened."

According to the complaint, Homich told investigators he had found Lawson lying on the floor of his room the morning of June 7 with vomit on the floor and on his clothes. He allegedly initially denied he had changed his dirty diaper during the night, but later admitted to it, saying he had forgotten about it in previous interviews.

The friend of the foster mom reportedly said she had been watching Lawson overnight about four times a week because of an incident in which Homich had "whooped" the boy. The complaint alleges she said she heard Lawson tell his foster mom that Homich had hit him in the head because of a dirty diaper.

She reportedly alleged Homich would "loose his cool" if he had to change one of Lawson's dirty diapers.

The complaint goes on to allege investigators found a text message from Homich to his mother on June 12 in which Homich reportedly said "Mom I'm about to go to prison." The complaint also alleges there are texts in which investigators claim it appears he is asking his mother to take the blame for Lawson's death.

One of Homich's co-workers also is alleged to have told investigators that prior to Lawson's death he had been on break with Homich who told him he had punched Lawson in his stomach.

Homich also reportedly told a coworker that he had punched Zayden in the stomach and that Zayden became, "really sick and his vomit was black," according to the complaint.

When the coworker told Homich to bring Zayden to a doctor, charging documents say Homich feared, "the doctor would see his bruises and Lawson is old enough to tell him who gave him the bruises."

"I think the baby could have been saved but it was adults worried about adults saving their own skin," said Zayden's aunt, Semora Murrell.  "I blame them both.  A child has died and he's never coming back."

The complaint states the Ramsey County Medical Examiner analyzed a hemorrhage found in Lawson's abdomen and their findings "are consistent with the fatal injuries being inflicted in the overnight hours of June 6-7, 2017," the night Lawson was in Homich's care.


Frank Rajkowski

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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