By Patrick Yost editor
When 21–year-old Donald Justin Lee shuffled into the Morgan County Magistrate Court at the Morgan Public Safety Center, his feet and legs shackled, he was crying. Just moments before Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley escorted Lee into the courtroom for a brief arraignment hearing before Magistrate Judge Connie Holt, Lee had been told that 9–month–old Brantley Garrett Farmer had died. And, he was now being charged with felony murder. On Saturday at 1:40 p.m. Morgan County Dispatch received a harried phone call from Lee’s neighbor. A baby, 9–month–old Brantley Garrett Farmer, was in Lee’s arms and wasn’t breathing.
Lee had taken the child from an Aqua Road residence he shared with the child’s mother after, he told authorities, the child had fallen off a couch and become unresponsive. According to Capt. Chris Bish, investigations division, Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, there was no working phone in the Aqua Road residence. The neighbor made the call to 911. Within moments emergency medical workers arrived and “immediately,” Bish said, started CPR on the infant. At Morgan Memorial Hospital doctors were able to coax a pulse out of the infant but the boy’s breathing was still labored and a ventilator was put in place for the helicopter ride to Atlanta’s Scottish Rite. The child’s 19–year–old mother had been at work but arrived at the hospital, incident reports state.
After she was assessed of the injuries to her son, she collapsed on the floor. Bish said while efforts were being made to save Brantley Farmer, search warrants for the Aqua Road residence were being obtained. Investigators secured the house and began to scour over the residence.
Saturday afternoon authorities requested that Lee come to the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office for an interview. He complied and has not left. Bish said doctors told him Brantley had suffered from “petechial hemorrhage” in the eyes which, Bish said, is typically caused by either trauma or asphyxiation due to obstruction of an airway. Brantley, he said, had minor red marks on his chin area but no other visible signs of trauma. “He looked normal,” Bish said.
“He was just unconscious.” Brantley remained in critical condition at Scottish Rite as Lee was speaking with investigators. He was cooperative, Bish said, and told authorities that he was watching the child while his girlfriend and the child’s mother was at one of two jobs she was working.
The child fell off the couch, he told authorities. Bish said the 18 inch fall is not conducive to life–threatening injuries. Evidence at the scene, medical diagnosis and Lee’s testimony led authorities to charge Lee with felony cruelty to children on Saturday and detain him at the Morgan County Detention Center.
On Sunday at 3:51 p.m. the family elected to have Brantley removed from life support and the infant died immediately, Bish said. Soon after authorities began the process to petition the courts to have Lee charged with felony murder, as well. Lee was polite when speaking with Judge Holt.
When told that one of the possible sentences for felony murder was death he placed his head in his hands and sobbed. So did his mother, who was sitting 15 feet away with other family members. Lee told the judge he had quit high school after the 11th grade, had not held a job that he could remember and had last smoked marijuana on the Thursday before the incident.
He also said he could not afford an attorney and that he had moved into the Aqua Road house with the mother and child on Valentine’s Day, 2014. He is also currently on probation for a felony drug possession conviction that involved the possession of opiates, he told Judge Holt. Holt denied bond for Lee and said his case would be bound over to Morgan County Superior Court.
A warrant for Lee’s arrest alleges that the baby “received severe head injury at the hand of the accused.” Bish said on Monday an autopsy on the child was concluded and that “preliminary reports support severe trauma to the head.” A gofundme page has been established at www.gofundme.com/baby-BRANTLEY with the goal of raising $5,000 for the child’s funeral. As of press time on Tuesday, 56 persons had donated $1,890.