Crime

Autopsy shows how Gulfport infant died. It disputes father’s statement, officials say.

Byron Allen Ellison
Byron Allen Ellison Courtesy of Jessica Smith and Harrison County jail

A father, in his statement to police, said he “may” have struck the front of his infant’s head on his collarbone while trying to quiet the crying baby.

An autopsy shows something else may have happened to cause traumatic brain damage and the death of 2-month-old Colton Ellison.

“State Medical Examiner Dr. Mark LeVaughn has concluded that Colton died of blunt force trauma to the back of his head,” Harrison County prosecuting attorney Herman Cox said.

An autopsy shows the baby had 1/2- to 1-inch linear brain lesions in the back of his head. They are abnormal tissue often caused by traumatic injury to adjacent brain tissue. The baby had two brain bleeds and a fractured skull.

The manner of death was homicide, an autopsy performed on Oct. 22, 2018 shows.

Byron Ellison killed his son “without premeditation ... while slamming Colton Wyatt Ellison into his shoulder, causing brain hemorrhaging, an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved heart, regardless of human life,” an affidavit signed Nov. 28, 2018 says.

That’s the day investigators upgraded Ellison’s initial charge of felony child abuse to second-degree murder.

Justice Court Judge Diane Ladner heard testimony Wednesday and found probable cause to turn the case over to a grand jury. If indicted, Ellison will be prosecuted in Harrison County Circuit Court.

Piazza told the judge that Ellison said he didn’t intend to hurt his baby, but he was tired and aggravated because the baby wouldn’t stop crying so he banged the baby’s head against his shoulder.

During the autopsy, Piazza noticed the baby’s eyes were bruised. Investigators looked at pictures shared on Facebook by one of the parents before the incident. He testified the baby’s eyes were not bruised then.

The sheriff’s department has reviewed more than 1,000 pages of medical documents and must obtain court orders for other medical documents, Cox said. Because of privacy laws, doctors and hospitals don’t release medical records to law enforcement without a court order.

Ellison, 29, and Colton’s mother, Jessica Smith, were living with his parents in a rural area on Calcutta Drive south of Robinson Road.

Colton wasn’t sleeping through the night and his father had agreed to watch him while his mother slept, according to testimony.

His mother told the Sun Herald she woke up on Oct. 15, 2018, and changed the baby’s diaper. Jessica Smith said Colton was crying and had a cold, and she went to the kitchen to warm him a bottle. In about 10 minutes, Ellison walked in holding their lifeless child, she said.

“She said his arms were ‘hanging like noodles’ — they were limp,” Cox said.

Ellison lied to Smith while they were at the hospital, saying he hadn’t done anything to their baby, she told the Sun Herald.

Investigator Anthony Piazza told the judge Wednesday that Smith had called 911 about 6:45 a.m. and said her baby wasn’t breathing.

Deputy James LaGoy, the first on scene, found Smith trying to perform CPR from a 911 dispatcher’s instructions.

Colton was taken to Garden Park Medical Center in Gulfport, where he was diagnosed with multiple brain bleeds.

The baby was flown to Oschner Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. He was declared brain dead three days later after undergoing two brain-death examinations, Piazza’s affidavit says. Colton was removed from life support.

Meanwhile, the parents were taken to the sheriff’s department’s Criminal Investigation Division, where both were interviewed.

“Byron Ellison confessed to slamming Colton into his shoulder twice prior to Colton losing consciousness,” Piazza wrote in an affidavit.

Deputies arrested him on a charge of felony child abuse, and upgraded the charge after viewing the autopsy and medical records.

“His attorney asked for a bond reduction Wednesday, but the state wouldn’t agree and neither did the judge,” Cox said.

Second-degree murder is a killing done without premeditation and without regard for human life.

The charge carries a sentence of life in prison if a jury, after reaching a guilty verdict, chooses that punishment in a separate court hearing.

If a jury doesn’t want to impose life, a judge can sentence the defendant to 20 to 40 years in prison.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics show that more than 700,000 children are referred to child protective agencies as a result of abuse or neglect in the U.S. each year. According to Purva Grover, M.D., a pediatric eme



Robin Fitzgerald covers real-time news, such as crime, public safety and trending stories. In nearly 40 years as a journalist, her highest honors include investigative awards for covering the aftermath of the fatal beating of a Harrison County jail inmate in 2006 and related civil rights violations. She is a Troy University graduate.


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