- Mother of two was found guilty in drowning her daughter by pushing her face underwater in the pool.
- The star witness at the trial was her own son, who described what happened by drawing a picture and burst into tears when seeing her mother.
- The defense argued a child witness is unreliable. He kept changing his story, and the prosecutor and grandfather placed the story into his head.
The incredible day-care sex abuse cases in the 1980's and 90's hinged primarily on the testimony of children. Innocent people watched their lives come apart when they were accused of atrocious crimes against minors. With the help of psychologist and detectives, children were planted with false memories and encouraged to lie, because people in the position of authority were pushing them to say what they wanted to hear.
Much progress has been made in the last decade, but the reliability of child witnesses is still under the question.
When a young boy named A.J started to tell detectives that he had seen his mother drown his older sister by pushing her face underwater in the pool, the prosecutors had little doubt about the authenticity of the story.
Amanda Lewis was a single mother of two children -- 5-year-old A.J and 7-year-old Adrianna Hutto. The siblings had a different father and lived in a modest house with their mother in Esto -- a small town of 350 people in Holmes County, Florida.
Adrianna was an outgoing, happy child, but had problems paying attention and sometimes controlling her behavior. Doctors diagnosed her with ADHD -- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She wetted bed and even spent a week at a behavioral center. Her mother Amanda admitted it was a daily struggle and that she had trouble with bonding in the beginning, but insisted the affection had grown over time.
A.J. was different. He was calm, more relaxed child, who could sit in the corner and play quietly by himself -- characteristics that very well might have saved his life
They were not the first children for Amanda. When she was a teenager, she gave birth to a son, who mysteriously stopped breathing while sleeping. He was just 16 months old. The autopsy revealed he had an unexpected seizure.
Now, years later on August 8, 2007, the mother of two makes a frantic 911 call.
"Send an ambulance, please. My daughter fell in the pool, and she's not breathing,"
"Her lips are purple, what do I do? Water's just coming out of her nose. Please hurry."
She was pronounced dead an hour after the arrival of medical personnel. The death was seen as an accident at first, but when the little A.J told (step) grandfather a sinister story of his mother killing Adrianna, the alarm bells went off.
He then described the detectives what happened “Mama dunked my sister. She [had] done some stuff that she ain’t suppose so my mama got mad, so she threw her in the pool.”
Amanda was arrested and took a polygraph test which he passed. The investigators took a fresh look at the family house what now appeared to be a crime scene. There were no toys and the house smelled urine that Amanda later blamed on animals and the fact that Adrianna was wetting her bed. The toys were supposed to be in the shed as a form of punishment, but the shed was empty.
The emergency room worker who treated Adrianna at the hospital informed investigators that Amanda didn't show any emotion or reaction when told that her daughter had died. The autopsy pointed out multiple bruises on Adrianna's forehead that corresponded with A. J.'s testimony.
With the help of the star witness A.J and co-workers testimonies of Amanda having said "I want to kill Adrianna," she was found guilty.
The defense argued the colleagues took the words literally. The grandfather coached A.J what to tell. His story kept changing and was shaky at best. He claimed his mother sent Adrianna to a local park and then followed her there in a car, dunking her before and after the park trip. At one point, he even admitted not witnessing the crime in the first place.
Amanda was offered a plea bargain that would have required her to plead guilty to manslaughter charges and receive a ten-year sentence. She declined and was punished with the first-degree murder -- life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A.J. was adopted by a new family and has had no contact with his biological mother.