Man charged with capital murder after 15-month-old dies

A 15-month-old girl involved in a Dec. 23 child abuse incident died Dec. 27 at Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital, and a man arrested after the incident has been charged with capital murder.

Kara Nicole Lee died at about 11:20 a.m. Dec. 27, about four days after employees at the Shelby Baptist Medical Center called the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department to report the child had major injuries when she arrived at the hospital.

Though police originally arrested 22-year-old James Wesley Howard and charged him with aggravated child abuse on Dec. 24, the Shelby County District Attorney’s office later upgraded the charge to capital murder after Lee’s death.

Emergency crews with the Southeast Shelby Rescue Squad transported Lee from her home in the 200 block of Shelby County 405, near Lay Lake, to the Shelby Baptist Medical Center. Crews then airlifted the infant to Children’s Hospital shortly after she arrived at Shelby Baptist, according to Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry.

“As you all know, she had the best possible medical care available,” Curry said, noting the child had “extensive injuries on parts of her torso and head.”

Emergency personnel responded to the scene after one of the child’s neighbors called 911 to report the child’s injuries. The neighbor called authorities at the request of Lee’s 19-year-old mother, Brittany Alish Lee, Curry said.

“At this point in the investigation, it would be premature to say there won’t be any charges brought against the child’s mother, but it would also be premature to say there will be,” Curry said, noting Lee’s mother likely was in the house when the child was assaulted.

“From all indications, the injuries occurred within a relatively short amount of time. Probably within hours of the child’s arrival at the hospital,” Curry said.

Howard was Brittany Lee’s boyfriend, and had been living with the two for about two months. Before moving into the house with the infant, Howard had served jail time for a burglary conviction, Curry said.

Alabama law requires those charged with murdering anyone younger than 14 years old to be charged with capital murder.

“There are a lot of victims in these things, from the victim’s family and loved ones to the investigators who have been working this case since it was reported,” Curry said. “Fifteen or 20 years from now, if you ask these investigators where they were during Christmas 2009, they’ll be able to tell you.”