Man Arrested for Toddler's Murder

By Al Pefley  email

Pahokee, FL (WFLX)

A Pahokee is man behind bars for murder and aggravated child abuse, accused of  beating to death a two-year old.

Based on the youngster's injuries outlined in the arrest report, it appears the child suffered for days before he was taken to the hospital and died.  If authorities are correct, the toddler suffered repeated abuse. And to make it even more tragic, his death came just two days after Christmas.

Did Antoin Lawrence, 23,  of Pahokee snap, lose his temper, and beat his girlfriend's two-year old boy?

An autopsy showed the youngster,  who was nicknamed "Man," had close to a dozen injuries, including bruises to his forehead, neck, back and stomach, and tears to his liver and small intestine and injuries to his groin.

The last few hours of his life were spent in a Pahokee apartment on Padgett Circle  where he lived with his mother and Lawrence.

No one came to the door when we tried to get a comment.

But according to detectives, the little boy's mother, Crystal Banks,  says the child was vomiting and the next morning,  December 27,  his body was limp and unresponsive and they rushed him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

"I don't believe he did it. He didn't do it. Antoin loves kids. We have a family full of kids. Everybody else's kids love him. Antoin Lawrence did not beat that baby!  He did not do that. He don't even know what happened," said Ruth Crawford, the suspect's cousin.

Lawrence's family is stunned by his arrest for murder, and they insist that he is innocent.

"It's destroying our family! It's tearin' us up. We want to know the truth. We need to find out the truth. We want to know what happened to this baby," Crawford said.

Some of his relatives are fighting back tears, saying he's a gentle soul who would never hurt a child.

"I don't think he done this and I won't believe that he done this and nobody gonna make me believe this.  He's not a killer then?  No, he's not a killer," said Elizabeth Lawrence, the suspect's mother.   "I'm gonna be there. I'm gonna stick with him and they're gonna put this on somebody else, not my son," she added.

According to the arrest report, Banks told detectives she saw Lawrence hit the child with a belt at least every week, and she said he would beat the toddler for not eating, for not going to sleep or not moving fast enough and she told him not to hit the boy anymore.

Detectives say Lawrence was very evasive when they questioned him about the child's injuries. And they say he denied knowing how the child got those bruises.

Lawrence told sheriff's detectives he has hit the child with a belt, but only on his bottom.

He is being held without bond for first degree murder.  Relatives say Lawrence,  a farm worker,  has no prior criminal record.