CONWAY — After nearly four hours of deliberations, a jury came back with a not guilty verdict in the trial of Miles Lee Ferguson 27 of Portsmouth , Ohio, who was accused of killing his 5-week-old daughter.
"This young man wasn't guilty but he has lived a nightmare for these past three years and you can see the stress they have all been under is immeasurable and I'm just so happy for them because his family needs him and the last place in the world for him to be is in the penitentiary," said defense attorney Morgan Martin.
Ferguson, 27, was charged with homicide by child abuse in Mylee Grace Ferguson’s death.
Ferguson wouldn't comment but kept repeating, "praise the Lord," as he hugged his wife, family and friends.
Ferguson cried heavily as he thanked the jury and court personnel minutes after the verdict was announced.
Dozens of supporters who have been lining up since the trial started Nov. 9 outside the Horry County Courthouse in Conway cheered as Ferguson walked outside Wednesday night.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys finished their closing arguments shortly after 5pm Wednesday.
Ferguson sat sobbing holding his wife's hand as Martin told the jury about how his client “is not a violent man… look at him, he is a good boy, he loved that baby."
Martin continued to say, “this isn’t an ‘I think he might done it, this isn’t a he probably done it this isn’t a sure don’t look good this is beyond each and every reasonable doubt and if there is a real possibility that (that) young man is not guilty then it’s your obligation to acquit him.”
"It makes sense that what he did, didn't have to be a premeditated evil, it didn't have to have a motive, but he snapped and it's the sad truth, and it happens to people," said Fifteenth Circuit Assistant Solicitor Candice Lively.
Prosecutors also presented rebuttal witness Wednesday morning.
Shannon Karlayne Toole, a pediatric nurse practitioner at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, took the stand where prosecutors asked her whether Ferguson ever mentioned or demonstrated that he shook his baby during his conversation with her.
Toole replied she doesn’t recall Ferguson ever did that.
Shortly after Toole’s testimony and during a short break, Ashlee Ferguson, the defendant’s wife, walked up to Toole and said, “You lied ... you’re a liar.”
Lively made sure that the court, minus the presence of the jury, was aware of the encounter.
“Your honor, I know there is a lot of tension in this case and emotions are very high, but we deserve to have a fair trial,” Lively said.
Toole went back on the stand and told 15th Circuit Court Judge Ben Culbertson about the incident prosecutors say made her feel intimidated by Ashlee Ferguson.
The state maintained that Ferguson shook Mylee to death.
“Why would a demonstration be important in the case, such as in a child abuse case?” Lively asked.
“This case, from when I got the call, was in reference to what appear to be a shaken baby syndrome; therefore what I responded by assuming that the child had been shaken by somebody,” state witness Karen Sams, of the state Department Social Services Office in Charleston, testified.
Ferguson took the stand Tuesday to defend himself.
Police said Mylee was beaten at a home near Arcadian Shores in 2007 while the Fergusons vacationed in Myrtle Beach from Ohio. Ferguson claims his baby was unresponsive and he shook her to revive, not kill, her.
Fergusons’s defense team presented several of his family and friends as witnesses to the jury Tuesday.
“He is a great man,” the defendant's wife testified. “No one could ask for a better husband than him.”
During the state’s cross examination, prosecutors kept asking Ferguson if he shook his baby.
Ferguson, visibly agitated, replied. “ I would never shake my baby violently. No one should ever shake a baby ... ever.”
Lively asked Ferguson to use a doll to describe exactly what happened the day he realized something was wrong with his baby.
Ferguson, who was 24 at the time of Mylee’s death, originally was charged with assault and battery with the intent to kill in August 2007. But those charges were elevated after the investigation began.
Mylee was taken to MUSC for treatment, but died there Aug. 2, 2007. Horry County Coroner Robert Edge said autopsy results showed she died of a closed head injury.
Ferguson’s bond was set Aug. 6, 2007, at $50,000 and he was ordered not to leave the state of Ohio if he posted bond out. The only exceptions to that order were if he had a court appearance in South Carolina or needed to meet with his lawyer.
In December 2007, a grand jury indicted Ferguson on a count of homicide by child abuse.
A few protestors who said they want justice for Mylee also stood outside the courthouse at the beginning of the trial, holding color printed pictures of the baby.
“When you look at the facts of the case, and I’m not going to go into detail on all of that, we are talking about a 5-week-old baby, how could she have done that to her self?” child advocate Kelly Mason asked. “What possibly could be the reason? It’s just not possible if you educate yourself on children and child development and shaken baby syndrome and the kinds of injuries that it caused.
“This is what we are looking at. This child needs people to stand up for her. Kids need someone to talk for them. This baby is 5 weeks-old, and no longer with us. She has no voice, and unfortunately only us to stand for her today,” Mason said.