Judge dismisses meth charge against father of toddler who drank drain cleaner

bestep@herald-leader.comJanuary 10, 2013 

BOWLING GREEN — A judge dismissed a charge of manufacturing methamphetamine against the father of a 20-month-old boy who died after drinking drain cleaner that apparently had been used to make the drug.

Bryan Daniels, 22, has been on trial this week on charges related to the agonizing death of his son, Kayden, on May 30, 2009.

No witnesses said they saw Daniels making meth at the small mobile home in Wayne County where his son drank the drain cleaner.

After prosecutors finished presenting their case Thursday, Circuit Judge Vernon Miniard Jr. granted a request by Daniels' attorney, Mark Stanziano, to dismiss the meth-making charge against Daniels.

Daniels still faces charges of murder, endangering his child and taking part in a criminal syndicate. He is being tried in Warren Circuit Court in Bowling Green because a jury could not be seated in Wayne County.

Daniels could be sentenced to 20 years to life if convicted.

Stanziano also finished presenting Daniels' defense Thursday. Jurors will begin deciding Daniels' fate after closing arguments scheduled for Friday morning.

Kayden ingested a drain cleaner called Liquid Fire, which contains sulfuric acid. It is one ingredient used in making meth in small, crude labs fashioned from plastic bottles. The drain cleaner had been left in a coffee cup in a bedroom at the small mobile home where Daniels and Kayden's mother, Alisha Branham, then 14, had been staying with the boy.

A recovering meth addict named Alisha Dicken, 24, testified Thursday that she saw Danny Anderson Jr. making meth at the trailer on the day Kayden died. Anderson was in the bedroom. He had a 2-liter soft-drink bottle containing chemicals needed to make meth, and he was getting ready to use other chemicals to convert the liquid meth oil to a solid, called "smoking off" the drug, said Dicken.

Daniels, Branham and Kayden were not there at the time, Dicken said.

Dicken said she did not see a bottle of Liquid Fire at the trailer but knew that Anderson typically used that chemical in making meth.

Braham testified earlier that she and Daniels made sure to leave the trailer when someone was making meth, so Kayden wouldn't be exposed to the danger. Meth is made using hazardous chemicals, and the labs can explode.

Branham said she had cleaned the trailer before she and Daniels brought Kayden back there late on May 30, 2009. The coffee cup with the poisonous cleaner in it remained on a small table in the bedroom, however.

As his mother dressed for bed and his father went to the kitchen to get the boy some juice, Kayden grabbed the cup and took a drink, according to testimony. The acid caused severe internal injuries, and he died an hour later.

Dicken was first charged with murder and other crimes in the case but pleaded guilty to reduced charges of facilitating the manufacture of meth.

She was sentenced to 10 years in prison, probated for five years, and placed in a pretrial diversion program.

Dicken said she has been in treatment and hasn't used meth in 14 months.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services asked a judge to put Alisha Branham in foster care in May 2007, after she got pregnant at age 12.

After Kayden was born, he and his mother were placed back with Alisha Branham's mother, Melissa Branham, late in 2007. The two were still supposed to be living with Melissa Branham in May 2009, and they were being monitored by a state social worker, Ashley Dobbs.

However, Alisha Branham testified she had moved to her father's rented trailer a month before Kayden died, because Melissa Braham's electricity and water had been cut off.

She went to the trailer so she could keep milk for Kayden and do a better job caring for him, Branham said.

Stanziano called Dobbs as a witness Thursday to further his argument that social workers failed to adequately protect Kayden and his mother.

Stanziano pointed out, for instance, that Melissa Branham failed numerous times to take drug tests Dobbs had requested.

At one point, Dobbs told Melissa Branham she had to pass three drug tests or the state would ask a judge to take Alisha Branham and Kayden from her home, Stanziano said. Melissa Branham did not pass three tests in a row, but Dobbs did not try to move Branham's daughter and grandson, Stanziano said.

Dobbs said she wasn't sure whether the bad tests Stanziano referred to happened before or after her ultimatum.

Stanziano asked Dobbs whether she should have found out that Melissa Branham had no electricity, water or food at her house, and that Alisha Branham and Kayden had moved out.

Dobbs testified she visited Melissa Branham's home in Monticello 10 days before Kayden died. Kayden was there; Alisha wasn't, but Melissa Branham said she had gone to visit her father, Dobbs said. Melissa Branham did not say Alisha had moved out, and there was no reason to suspect she had, Dobbs said.

Melissa Branham acknowledged she had no electricity.

However, she said she'd been staying with a nearby relative at night and giving Kayden baths there, and that she had made arrangements to move to another residence with electricity, Dobbs said.

Dobbs said she didn't check to see whether Melissa Branham had food in the house because her office had not received any reports that there was no food available.

Dobbs said if she had gotten a report that Alisha Branham and Kayden were living at an inappropriate place, she would have asked a judge to move the two.

After all the testimony in the case, Stanziano asked Miniard to acquit Daniels without requiring the jury to decide the case, arguing prosecutors had not proved he murdered or knowingly endangered his son. But Commonwealth's Attorney Matthew Leveridge said it was clear Daniels knew the risks associated with making meth, yet still took his son to a place where people had made the drug.

Miniard declined to acquit Daniels or reduce the charges.

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

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