At trial, Wayne County mother describes child's death by drinking acid from meth-making

bestep@herald-leader.comJanuary 8, 2013 

BOWLING GREEN — In a voice so soft jurors had to strain to hear, a young mother described the agonizing death of her 20-month-old son, who drank sulfuric acid left over from making methamphetamine.

Alisha Branham, 18, testified Tuesday in the trial of the boy's father, Bryan Daniels, who is charged in his death.

Branham said she and Daniels always took their son, Kayden, away from the small mobile home in Wayne County where they were staying when others used it to make meth.

But the night Kayden died, on May 30, 2009, someone had left behind drain cleaner called Liquid Fire, which is used in the chemical reaction that produces meth.

The fluid, allegedly used to make meth earlier that day, was in a coffee cup on a small table in a bedroom.

Kayden got the cup while no one was looking and took a drink, immediately suffering burns internally and on his stomach, where some spilled.

"He grabbed his tongue as if he'd drank something hot," Branham said Tuesday.

Branham ran to the kitchen sink with the boy and tried to get him to drink cold water, but he was having trouble breathing and seemed afraid to drink, she said.

Branham, Daniels and her father, Larry Branham, rushed Kayden to the hospital. The panicked mother, then 14, screamed as Kayden threw up and his eyes rolled back in his head, she testified.

At the hospital, Kayden called for his mother. Doctors gave him morphine for the pain but could not stop the damage from the acid he drank.

Daniels is charged with murder in the death of his son; child endangerment; making meth; and being involved in a criminal syndicate, a charge based on the number of people who allegedly made meth at his residence.

The trial was moved to Warren Circuit Court in Bowling Green after a jury could not be seated in Wayne County. Opening arguments were Tuesday, and the trial will continue Wednesday. Judge Vernon Miniard is presiding.

The actions of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services will get some scrutiny during the trial.

Alisha Branham and Kayden had been in foster care for a period but then were placed with her mother, Melissa Bran ham, when Kayden was 3 months old.

However, state child-protective workers were still overseeing the family.

Daniels' attorney, Mark Stanziano, told jurors Tuesday that the state failed to protect Alisha and Kayden properly.

There were concerns that Melissa Branham was using drugs, yet she failed 40 times to show up when state social workers called to request that she take a drug test, Stanziano said.

She took four tests, Stanziano said, passing one and failing one. The other two samples were diluted, which can indicate an effort to beat the test.

"They did nothing to get these kids out of her care" despite the red flags, Stanziano said.

The cabinet did not issue a response to Stanziano's comments Tuesday.

The prosecutor in the case, Commonwealth's Attorney Matthew Leveridge, said social services was not involved in the events surrounding Kayden's death.

Leveridge told jurors Tuesday that evidence would show that earlier on the day Kayden died, people made meth at the small trailer where Daniels, Branham and Kayden were staying.

Danny Anderson Jr., Alisha Branham's uncle, admitted that he put some Liquid Fire in a coffee cup while making meth at the trailer, Leveridge said.

Stanziano, who has argued forcefully for Daniels' innocence, told jurors that Daniels did not make meth the day Kayden died and that Daniels had nothing to do with the death of his son.

Alisha Branham testified Daniels did not make meth that day.

She said Daniels, a star high school wrestler, was 16 and she was 12 when she got pregnant. She was 13 when Kayden was born.

Branham and Kayden were supposed to live with her mother, but Melissa Branham's electricity and water had been turned off, Alisha Branham testified.

She said she had reported earlier to social services that Melissa Branham was selling her food stamps to get money for drugs.

She said that after Melissa Branham's utilities were cut off, she and Daniels and the baby moved to the small trailer that her father, Larry Bran ham, rented, so she could keep milk for Kayden and do a better job taking care of him.

When she woke up on May 30, 2009, she knew Anderson and others planned to make meth at the trailer, as they had before, so she, Daniels and Kayden left, Branham said.

They went back to the trailer at one point, and she saw Anderson and others with finished meth on a plate in her bedroom on the bed Branham, Daniels and Kayden shared, Branham said.

Branham said she and Daniels used some meth that day, but she said she also asked her father to get the meth makers out of the house before leaving again with Daniels and the baby.

Branham said she and Daniels left Kayden with a relative before coming back later in the day.

She cleaned up in an attempt to make sure there was nothing left from the meth production that could hurt Kayden, but she didn't see anything "major," Branham said.

The two then picked up Kayden, returning home between 10 and 10:30 p.m., Branham said.

Kayden grabbed the coffee cup in their bedroom at one point. Daniels took it away from him but put it where Kayden could still reach it, Branham said.

She said she put in an Alvin and the Chipmunks movie for Kayden to watch while the three got ready for bed. Daniels went to the kitchen to get Kayden some juice; Branham got out Kayden's pajamas and pulled on a nightshirt.

When she got the shirt past her face, she saw Kayden with the cup, but he'd already taken a drink, Branham said.

Kayden, who learned quickly, loved his family and liked SpongeBob SquarePants, puppies and feeding the chickens, was dead in an hour.

"He was my everything," Branham said.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1.

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