FLORENCE, Ala. (WHNT) — A Lauderdale County man has taken a plea deal in the capital murder case against him in connection to the 2020 death of his 3-year-old son.
23-year-old Blake Joshwell Townsend agreed to plead guilty and be sentenced to life in prison in exchange for testifying against his co-defendant, 22-year-old Yalrick Zeonsha Pride.
Townsend and Pride were both charged in the death of Kaiden Garner in August 2020. At this point, Pride has only been charged with aggravated abuse of a child younger than 6.
The Florence Police Department (FPD) said at the time they were called to North Alabama Medical Center regarding the child’s death. After initially saying it might have been a heat-related death, police said they discovered Garner was killed by blunt force trauma.
In a September 2020 indictment, Townsend was charged with “beating and/or punching [Kaiden Garner] and/or kicking him causing a laceration of the child’s liver, other internal injuries and external injuries and the death of said child.”
Investigators at the time said Kaiden had been staying with his father in the days leading up to his death, adding that witnesses confirmed the child, his father, and others were in the area of Carver Circle the night before his death.
Police said that area is a common gathering place for the community.
It was initially reported and believed that Kaiden’s death was possibly due to heat exposure but detectives later confirmed that his death was not related to any type of injury caused by heat exposure.
According to Lauderdale County District Attorney Christopher Connolly, emergency responders said Kaiden’s body was already cold, adding that rigor mortis had already set in. They also reported seeing bruises on the child’s body that were allegedly not there when the boy’s mother dropped him off with Townsend.
Connolly said Townsend did admit to hitting his son twice in his abdomen with an open hand, though he described other injuries including blunt-force trauma to Kaiden’s torso, head and upper and lower extremities.
Townsend was indicted for capital murder just one month after the incident. The charge carries a sentence of either death by lethal injection or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
During Friday’s hearing, Lauderdale County Circuit Court Judge Gil Self said he won’t formally accept Townsend’s plea or sentence him until he testifies against Pride during her trial, which is set for February 6, 2023.
Townsend’s sentencing hearing has been scheduled for March 1 at 9 a.m.