FLORENCE, Ala. (WHNT) — A Florence father and his girlfriend have been sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in connection to the death of a 3-year-old boy.
Yalrick Zeonsha Pride, now 23, was charged alongside Blake Joshwell Townsend in three-year-old Kaiden Garner’s murder in August 2020, though Pride was initially only charged with aggravated child abuse. Garner was Townsend’s son.
Pride was found guilty of felony murder for the death of Garner during a jury trial that began on August 16, according to Lauderdale County District Attorney Christopher Connolly. Online court documents show Pride was indicted for felony murder in May 2023.
In December 2022, Townsend agreed to plead guilty to aggravated child abuse and be sentenced to life in prison in exchange for testifying against Pride. On Tuesday, Townsend’s attorneys reportedly asked the judge for a lesser sentence for his cooperation, but the judge denied that request.
Both Pride and Townsend were formally sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole during a Tuesday hearing.
The Florence Police Department (FPD) said on August 12, 2020, they were called to North Alabama Medical Center regarding Kaiden’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.”
According to investigators, 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 the area is a common gathering place for the community.
Emergency responders said Kaiden’s body was already cold, adding that rigor mortis had already set in, according to Connolly. 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.
According to testimony, Lauderdale County Chief Assistant District Attorney Angie Hamilton said Pride and Townsend “rode around smoking marijuana while [Kaiden] slowly died from injuries in the backseat.”
Kaiden’s mother says she’s had many sleepless nights after everything that has happened, and Connolly hopes that getting this sentencing over with will be good for her.
“Kaiden’s mother has lived this for three years and was able to get some things off her mind today and speak her peace and get some victim impact information out there, and I think that was healthy for her,” Connolly said.
Kaiden’s family set up a foundation in his name following his death to create child abuse awareness and prevention efforts. Donations can be made at any First Metro Bank location under the Kaiden Garner Project.