MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – An Eagan woman and her boyfriend face charges in the death of her 3-year-old foster child.
Zeporia Fortenberry, 30, has been charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter. Charles Wayne Homich, 27, is charged with three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of first-degree manslaughter.
According to the criminal complaint, Eagan police responded to Fortenberry’s home around 3 p.m. on June 7, 2017, on a report that a 3-year-old boy was unconscious and not breathing. At the home, police found Fortenberry standing near 3-year-old Zayden Lawson – her foster child.
First responders attempted to revive the boy, but were unable. He was taken to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, where he was pronounced dead.
Two days later, an autopsy revealed Lawson died of multiple blunt force injuries and his death was ruled a homicide.
Fortenberry told police Homich was baby-sitting Lawson and his brother, as well as her two biological children, overnight on June 6-7. Homich told her he had changed Lawson’s diaper during the night.
On the morning of June 7, Fortenberry and Homich found Lawson lying on the floor of his bedroom, with dark-colored vomit on his clothes and bedroom floor. Throughout that day, Lawson said his stomach hurt and vomited a couple more times.
Fortenberry said she put Lawson in his bed about 20 minutes before she called 911, which she did when she noticed he was not breathing.
A different person was caring for the children the night before, and she told police she had been watching the children for about a month-and-a-half because of an incident in which Homich “whooped” Lawson, hitting him in the head because he soiled his diaper. According to texts between this baby-sitter and Fortenberry, Homich was allowed to watch the children on June 6 as punishment because Lawson ate some baking soda on the morning of June 6.
One of Homich’s co-workers told police Homich said he “punched … Zayden in his stomach,” and that Lawson was sick and vomiting. The co-worker told Homich to take Lawson to a doctor, but Homich said the doctor would see his bruises and Lawson would tell the doctor who gave them to him.
More text messages show Fortenberry and Homich discussing beating Lawson on at least two occasions. Five days after Lawson’s death, Homich texted his mother and said, “Mom, I’m about to go to prison.” According to the criminal complaint, Homich also asked his mother to take the blame for Lawson’s death.
Fortenberry faces up to 10 years in prison for each of the manslaughter charges if convicted. Each of Homich’s murder charges carry a maximum sentence of 40 years, while each manslaughter charge carries a max sentence of 15 years.