Saturday, August 23, 1997
Man denies he burned child
Baby's life in peril from scalding

The Cincinnati Enquirer

As a 10-month-old boy fought for his life in surgery Friday, his mother's boyfriend pleaded not guilty to charges he severely burned the child and fractured his skull.

With third-degree burns on his face, chest and back, Dion Willingham nearly died Tuesday when he went into "code blue" at Shriners Burns Institute. His family prayed at his bedside as doctors revived him. He had surgery Friday to remove burned skin, but remained in critical condition.

The baby's face and torso suffered severe burns, investigators said, and his skull was fractured sometime within 24 hours of the scalding.

Police say Zari Caudill, 22, of Mount Auburn, is responsible for the injuries. He's charged with felonious assault. The baby's mother, Marta Pinchback, 22, of Golf Manor, told police she discovered the injuries early Aug. 14 after returning from work at a United Dairy Farmers convenience store. She said she had left the baby in Mr. Caudill's care.

But Mr. Caudill "denies the charges wholeheartedly," his attorney, Thomas Harris, told Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Robert Taylor. The judge ordered Mr. Caudill held in jail in lieu of $100,000 bond.

Mr. Caudill, who was fired in June from United Parcel Service and has convictions for domestic violence and carrying concealed weapons, should face stiffer charges, the baby's family says. "This was definitely cold-hearted," said Yvonne Roseborough, the baby's maternal grandmother. "He should be charged with attempted murder."

Mr. Caudill's mother, however, supported her son in court along with a woman who said she was Mr. Caudill's girlfriend. They blamed Ms. Pinchback for Dion's injuries. She faces no charges.

Ms. Pinchback has been at her youngest son's bedside along with Deshawn Willingham, the baby's father, and other family members. The couple asked family members to speak for them.

"This baby has been through more than I could ever imagine," said Sharon Willingham-Simms, the baby's paternal grandmother.

The family described Dion as happy. He rarely whined and just learned to crawl. Now they wonder whether he'll ever be the same.

"I feel hopeless, helpless," Mrs. Roseborough said. "I would give him every part of my body, but there's nothing I can do. All I can do is pray."