MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Dakota County Attorney’s office says Zeporia Fortenberry, 32, pleaded guilty Thursday in connection to the 2017 death of her 3-year-old foster child.
The criminal complaint says prior to the death of Zayden Lawson, 3, Fortenberry was aware that her boyfriend — 28-year-old Charles Wayne Homich — had beaten the boy in the past.
Fortenberry went to work in the overnight between June 6 and June 7 of 2017, leaving Lawson, his brother and her two biological children in Homich’s care. At some point during that time, Homich punched Lawson in the stomach.
Homich and Fortenberry told investigators that on the morning of June 7, they found Lawson lying on the floor of his bedroom, covered in dark-colored vomit. He later complained to them of stomach pains, and vomited more during that day. Fortenberry said she later laid Lawson down in his bed, then noticed he wasn’t breathing. He was taken to Children’s Minnesota in St. Paul, where he was pronounced dead.
Lawson’s autopsy revealed that he died from “multiple blunt force injuries.” Homich’s co-worker told investigators that Homich admitted to them that he had punched Lawson in the stomach, but didn’t bring him to the hospital because he worried the boy would accuse him of abuse.
Investigators found text messages between Homich and Fortenberry discussing two previous beatings involving Lawson. And Homich texted his mother five days after Lawson’s death, saying, “Mom, I’m about to go to prison.” He also pleaded with his mother to take the blame for Lawson’s demise.
Fortenberry pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree manslaughter Thursday for knowingly allowing Lawson’s physical abuse. Homich pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in April. He will be sentenced on August 13.