Mother denies causing injuries that led to 2-year-old Dante Mullinix's death

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

The mother of Dante Mullinix denied beating, strangling or injuring him the night he went to the hospital unconscious and never woke up again.

Leah Mullinix also told a jury Friday that she didn’t see fresh, serious bruising on her 2-year-old son’s head or his lower jaw, throat and body before the last time she saw him in 2018.

“Did you see those on Dante at all on September the sixth up to the point in time when you left him when you went into the hospital?” First Assistant District Attorney Tim Barker asked.

“No,” Mullinix replied, through tears.

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Then, following a series of related questions, Mullinix blamed Tyree Bowie, her “kind-of boyfriend” at the time, for injuring Dante.

“Do they relate at all to you to leaving Dante in the defendant’s care?” Barker asked.

“Yes.”

Interest in the trial has been intense. At various points Friday, the trial was standing room only, with large contingents representing both Leah Mullinix and Tyree Bowie.

Prosecutors allege Bowie caused the injuries that led to Dante’s death while watching the child for about an hour and 40 minutes while Mullinix was at York Hospital to be seen for a migraine. The 43-year-old Bowie is on trial, charged with murder and child endangerment.

Dante Mullinix

The accusations are based on autopsy conclusions that Dante died from traumatic brain injury along with strangulation and suffocation.

Prosecutors argued that Dante's injuries were so significant that his system would have shut down and he couldn’t have walked around after receiving them. The injuries must have occurred during the window of time Bowie had Dante alone with him, the prosecution contends.

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A defense expert disagreed with the cause-of-death finding. In his opinion, Dante died from accidental choking, which cut off oxygen to his brain and caused it to swell.

Bowie told investigators that Dante choked on a Teddy Graham cookie he gave the boy while they were in his car, heading back to York Hospital to visit Mullinix.

Before Leah Mullinix took the stand, a now-former Pennsylvania State Police scientist, Jessica Mulhollen, testified she found apparent cookie residue in trace evidence taken from a spot on Bowie’s jeans, steering wheel and door. Although Mulhollen was called as a prosecution witness, her testimony would appear to support the defense's argument.

Bowie's attorney, Farley Holt, has argued that Bowie scrambled to get the mess out of the toddler’s throat and tried to get him breathing again in the driver’s seat. With Dante unconscious, Bowie rushed him back to the hospital.

Tyree Bowie in an photo submitted by family.

Medical staff there got him breathing again, then had him airlifted to Hershey Medical Center for further care. Dante stayed on a respirator for nine days before dying. New sets of bruises were seen on Dante’s lower jaw, his throat and his body, according to trial testimony.

Leah Mullinix, who is also charged with child endangerment in the case, gave her account over more than four hours of questioning by the prosecution and Bowie’s defense Friday, the end of the trial’s second week.

She described the situation that night from her point of view, as well as describing events in the weeks and days leading up to Sept. 6, 2018.

Mullinix came to York County with Dante from Adams County in the summer of 2018. They were largely homeless and relied on new friends, including two members of the Latin Kings gang, for places to stay, according to her testimony.

The involvement of Latin Kings gang members came up during Holt's cross-examination of Leah Mullinix.

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She met Bowie through Facebook that August, and she testified that he’d helped them buy food. They continued hanging out and grew close while Mullinix and Dante moved into a domestic abuse shelter downtown, she said.

The morning of Sept. 2, she said, York County Children, Youth and Families staff took her and Dante to the hospital to seek medical care for a genital infection. Antibiotics and ointment were prescribed.

Medical staff noted bruises on Dante’s body. Mullinix initially denied seeing bruises on him then, but acknowledged in testimony Friday that her son had a couple on his head when Barker showed her photos.

Leah Mullinix

The appointment came after a complaint was raised at the shelter about Dante constantly crying in pain. Medical professionals initially believed the infection was balanitis, she said, but it was later revealed to be herpes. Mullinix said she doesn’t have that infection.

The morning of Sept. 6, a Thursday, she and Dante went back to see a doctor for a follow-up appointment.

Then, after signing out from the shelter, she and Dante spent the day with Bowie, running errands using Bowie’s car, she testified. They later returned to the apartment where Bowie was staying and watched a movie.

Dante seemed run down, Leah Mullinix recalled.

“He wasn’t really eating much at that time,” she said, blaming the genital infection. “He wasn’t feeling the greatest.”

She’d earlier noted that he seemed to be walking differently, which she also attributed to the infection.

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During the movie, Mullinix said, a migraine that had developed that afternoon was becoming unbearable. The trio drove to York Hospital so she could be seen around 8:30 that night.

Bowie agreed to watch Dante in the meantime.

The two were seen walking into a Rutter’s gas station before heading back to his place, according to investigators.

While on the stand, Mullinix read texts she and Bowie had exchanged through Facebook Messenger. At about 9 p.m. that night, Bowie messaged that Dante had fallen out of the car.

They spoke via video around 9:30, and Mullinix said she could see Dante and Bowie in what looked like his bedroom. She said she also noticed a scrape on his chin.

“It came from when he fell out of the car,” she testified. “All that I noticed was that new mark on his chin. That’s all I seen.”

Mullinix said Dante seemed calm at the time.

A half hour later, the situation changed.

Mullinix and Bowie started another video chat at about 10 p.m. She said Bowie told her Dante wasn’t breathing.

“I think he was out by 3rd Base on George Street,” she said, referring to a takeout place in York City.

Mullinix couldn’t see Bowie or Dante during the call because the video was dark.

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“He said he stopped breathing and he had animal crackers,” she said. "I don’t remember entirely."

At the hospital, she said, she spoke to a chaplain, an officer and medical staff, but didn’t relay what Bowie told her.

Barker asked Mullinix about the new injuries seen on Dante.

She denied causing them, crying more intensely with each question.

“Did you bite your son, Dante?” “No.” “Did you beat and strike your son Dante in the head?” “No.” “Did you place your hand around Dante’s neck?” “No. “Did you strangle him?” “No.” “Did you beat his back? Did you compress his chest?” “No.” “Did you cause those bruises, did you strike his groin?” “No.” “Did you strike his right knee?” “No.”

Her cross-examination by Bowie’s attorney wasn't finished when the court adjourned at 5:45 p.m. The judge opted to send the jury home for the weekend and set the trial to resume Monday.

Leah Mullinix, 26, is also charged in the case, facing a felony count of child endangerment. Her next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 18, according to court records.

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