Pathologist insists Dante Mullinix was strangled, had severe brain trauma

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

Tyree Bowie stuck to his statement that he didn’t see marks on Dante Mullinix’s neck the night he took the unresponsive 2-year-old boy to the hospital in 2018.

Bowie’s attorney sought to confirm that point, but the lead detective in the homicide case was “unable to answer” the question with a yes or no.

The 43-year-old York City man is on trial, charged with murder and child endangerment. Prosecutors allege he killed Dante by brutalizing and severely injuring him while the two were alone together for approximately an hour and a half the night of Sept. 6, 2018.

Dante Mullinix

Bowie was watching Dante after the toddler’s mother, Leah Mullinix, went to York Hospital to seek treatment for a migraine.

Defense attorney Farley Holt has argued that the boy choked on a cookie Bowie gave him in his car and that Bowie then scrabbled to perform a crude CPR and dig the cookie out as Dante stopped breathing.

Bowie rushed the boy back to the hospital. As medical staff worked to resuscitate him, investigators said, fresh, serious bruises and injuries, including one under his jaw, were documented on his body.

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Dante died nine days later after he was transferred to Hershey Medical Center. An autopsy concluded the death was a homicide caused by traumatic brain injury along with strangulation and suffocation.

Dr. Wayne Ross, a forensic pathologist who conducted Dante's autopsy in Dauphin County, specified Wednesday that the brain trauma was diffuse axonal injury, which results in the tearing of connecting nerve fibers in the brain.

Tyree Bowie in an photo submitted by family.

“Would Dante Mullinix have been able to walk and move normally after sustaining this injury?” First District Attorney Tim Barker asked.

“No,” Ross replied. “It’s separate and apart from all other injuries I found and identified on his body."

He explained that Dante’s head was struck multiple times with forces extreme enough to cause the injury.

When Barker asked about Dante’s ability to walk, he referred specifically to where the boy was seen on security video walking at a gas station about 90 minutes before Bowie took him back to the hospital. The traumatic brain injury had to come sometime after the gas station visit, Barker has argued.

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Dr. David Fowler, a retired state medical examiner for Maryland, gave a competing opinion that Dante died accidentally from choking, which cut off his oxygen supply and caused his brain to swell. He testified for the defense Monday.

Ross pointed to bruising and marks under Dante’s jaw, describing how they resembled fingerprints, handprints and fingernail marks that grabbed Dante's neck multiple times, indicating strangulation.

He also said the boy had severe trauma to his back and spine, indicating multiple impacts.

As York City Police investigated the situation, the lead investigator, Detective Sgt. Kyle Hower, interviewed Bowie twice — once on Sept. 7, the morning after Dante went to the hospital, and again on Sept. 19, the day after Dante’s autopsy.

“You repeatedly asked my client if he saw any marks on the child’s neck,” Holt said during cross-examination, referring to the 2½-hour interview on Sept. 19.

“Yes. Several times,” Hower said.

He said Bowie had contradicted statements he made between the two interviews.

Holt focused on the statements about the neck mark, asking more than once to confirm that Bowie repeatedly said no, he didn’t see any such marks.

“I cannot answer that question with a yes or no answer,” Hower replied.

Hower’s cross-examination by Holt was a continuation of testimony he gave Tuesday under the prosecution’s initial questioning.

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Video of Bowie’s first police interview on Sept. 7 was shown to the jury Tuesday as part of the testimony. He was shown giving his account of seeing Dante choke and trying to help him.

Medical professionals, under prosecution questioning over the past week, have testified they didn’t find evidence of cookie debris on or in Dante the night he went to the hospital.

Holt and Hower sparred over the investigation of the car Bowie drove as Hower described swabs of substances he took to be tested — at one point, they argued over defining the top of the driver’s side door to specify where one swab was collected.

Hower said he took four swabs from that door, including from a brown spot near the interior. He also took a swab from the center area of steering wheel.

Holt pointed to one photo, asking Hower to identify a brown object between the door and the driver’s seat.

“To me, it looks like some kind of nacho chip,” Hower said.

“How about a Teddy Graham? A cracker? A cookie?” Holt asked.

“That’s not what it looks like to me at all,” Hower said.

He later indicated that the object apparently looked like a leaf. He didn’t collect the object, saying a decision was that it didn’t have evidentiary value.

Alternate light source sweeps were done inside the car to look for bodily fluids and substances that would have a fluorescent glow. Samples were then taken from the back of the driver’s seat, Hower said.

Dante Mullinix was two weeks shy of his third birthday when he was killed.

Bowie’s T-shirt and jeans were collected after his first police interview so they could be tested. Hower said he believed Bowie was still wearing the clothes from the night before when he took Dante to the hospital.

Testing confirmed with extreme likelihoods that Bowie and Dante had each other’s DNA mixed on them, as well as trace samples of one or two people who couldn’t be identified.

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Jillian Scola, a DNA scientist with the Pennsylvania State Police, testified she tested samples from fingernail clippings from both of Dante’s hands, as well as from Bowie’s T-shirt and jeans.

Scola found Leah Mullinix’s DNA mixed in one sample on Bowie’s jeans, but nowhere else.

The prosecution’s case appears close to reaching its conclusion, and Holt could potentially begin his presenting his defense in full this week — assuming the winter storm doesn't shut down the courthouse. York County announced that all county buildings would be closed Thursday.

— Reach Aimee Ambrose at aambrose@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.