'No justice for Dante': Jurors describe waiting for 'bombshell' that never came
The jurors decided within minutes, if not seconds, that Tyree Bowie was not guilty of murdering 2-year-old Dante Mullinix.
They knew going into deliberations they’d vote to acquit. Too many pieces presented by the prosecution didn’t add up.
“I sat for four weeks waiting for the prosecution to drop a bombshell. And it just never came,” said Deanna Wiseman, of Airville. “I could not get beyond that reasonable doubt.”
She and six other members of the jury — four on the main panel and three alternates — spoke to The York Dispatch on Saturday, sharing their experiences serving during Bowie’s four-week trial last month and their thoughts on the case.
They said they didn’t buy the allegations that Bowie savagely beat Dante to death while he babysat the boy the night of Sept. 6, 2018, nor the timeline York City Police and the York County District Attorney's Office proposed for the crime.
“They didn’t prove anything to show me anything that he did anything,” said Jesse Witmer, of Red Lion.
“The facts they really showed us was what happened to Dante, but not who did it to Dante,” Madison Urich, of Fairview Township, added. “They think he just went werewolf one night and just went crazy. And that’s just not possible.”
The group — both the jurors and alternates heard the same testimony — criticized the investigation, led by York City Police Detective Kyle Hower, as flawed from the beginning. The case didn’t show a crime scene or provide a possible motive, some pointed out.
They noted Hower targeted Bowie as his suspect almost immediately. They also alleged Hower failed to investigate other potential suspects, including Dante’s mother, and that he sought evidence to support his theory while excluding other evidence. Bowie was denied bail and spent four years in York County Prison while he awaited trial.
“I think that we all feel Detective Hower was lousy at his job and what he did. And the way he had him guilty from the very start,” said Kelly Wentz, of Hanover, one of the alternate jurors.
The York City Police Department and York County District Attorney’s Office provided a joint statement in response to questions seeking comment on the jury members’ remarks.
"We do not comment on jury verdicts or comments from jurors. It is inappropriate and unethical to do so,” the statement read. “A motion for judgement of acquittal was raised at the close of testimony by the defense. The trial court, in considering the evidence and law ruled that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support a guilty verdict on all charges beyond a reasonable doubt, should the jury have returned such a verdict.We know everyone involved with this case tried their very best. Our hearts will always be with Dante.”
Lori Dorwart, of Conewago Township, called the experience life changing. She said she went into the trial with a strong trust in law enforcement.
She came out with that trust shaken.
“I witnessed some things that really made me think differently about how our justice system works," Dorwart said. "How somebody that was innocent could sit in jail for four years, and the case just was not investigated, in my opinion, the way it should have been. It was a huge disappointment for me.”
The jurors said they believed their role was to help bring peace to the victim.
“At the end of the day, that’s what we were trying to do, was give Dante the justice that he deserves,” said Debbie Brashears, of Hanover, another alternate.
A step toward that justice was exonerating the man they believe was wrongly charged and jailed for four years. The point was bittersweet, Wiseman said, because those who should be held responsible weren’t arrested or charged as severely.
“We felt very good about the duty that we had done and for what we did for Tyree because we all firmly believed in our decision,” Wiseman said. “But at the end of the day, when we walked out of the courthouse, there was no justice for Dante.”
Bowie thanked the jurors for their verdict, which led to his release from York County Prison, where he had been held since September 2018.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart, every single one of y’all. I felt bad for y’all too because you had (to) sit there through the holidays for a whole month,” he said.
“Our four weeks are nothing to your four years,” Witmer replied.
Bowie arrived at Saturday's interview unexpectedly; one of the jurors apparently had invited him.
The other jurors were happy to see him Saturday, to include him in the conversation and to wish him well.
“Enjoy your new life,” Urich said.
“I think we’re all just happy for Tyree that we could give him what he needed,” Wentz said.
The trial was one of the longest in York County in the 21st century. Bowie's attorney, Farley Holt, mentioned last month that it was the longest for him. First Assistant District Attorney Tim Barker, who prosecuted the case, noted that the 2002 trial of three men — including a former York City mayor — in the 1969 race riot death of Lillie Belle Allen lasted about five weeks.
Bowie, 43, was arrested and charged with murder and child endangerment on Sept. 19, 2018, a few days after Dante died at Hershey Medical Center and one day after the autopsy was performed.
The exam found the boy died of traumatic brain injury along with strangulation and suffocation.
Investigators alleged Bowie brutalized Dante, “bludgeoned” him, while they were alone sometime within an hour-and-40-minute window the night of Sept. 6.
Earlier that evening, Bowie hung out with Dante and the boy’s mother, Leah Mullinix. But Mullinix complained of a migraine, and they took her to WellSpan York Hospital for treatment.
They then went back to the home where Bowie stayed. On the way, he stopped at a gas station, where security camera video showed Dante awake and walking around.
Bowie rushed the child back to the hospital an hour and 40 minutes later, and video showed him carrying Dante into the emergency department limp, unconscious and not breathing.
Doctors restarted his breathing but couldn’t revive him. A new series of bruises were allegedly seen on his body. He was later flown to Hershey Medical Center for further treatment and died nine days later.
Prosecutors pointed to the two videos, as well as a medical opinion that Dante’s brain injury would have had an immediate effect, to accuse Bowie of attacking the child in that time frame. They argued the injuries showed Dante was punched, kicked, slammed, bitten and strangled.
Bowie told police in 2018, and testified again at trial, that he locked himself out of the house where he was staying and hung out with Dante in his car that night until he decided to take the boy back to Mullinix at the hospital.
He gave Dante a cookie on the way.
On North George Street, he noticed the boy choking. He said he pulled him to the driver’s seat, tried to dig the cookie out of his throat, gave mouth-to-mouth and tried to resuscitate him, all while driving to the hospital.
He said he was also on a video call with Mullinix during the drive, which evidence supported, to tell her about the situation. They continued to message each other after Dante arrived at the hospital as Bowie further explained what had happened.
Evidence showed the two spoke earlier while Bowie was home with Dante. Mullinix testified she saw her son and that he seemed fine during the video call. That narrowed the prosecution’s window to about 16 to 19 minutes when the alleged violence could have occurred.
A medical expert for the defense testified that Dante died from choking, which cut off oxygen to his brain and caused it to swell.
Evidence revealed older bruises were seen on Dante before Sept. 6, injuries that Bowie wasn’t accused of causing and that he said he noticed when he first met Mullinix and the boy that August.
Testimony also showed the boy suffered from a painful genital infection that went untreated for several days. York County Children, Youth and Families staff eventually intervened, based on a complaint from a domestic violence shelter where Mullinix was staying with her son — a shelter Bowie helped them get into. Staff took her and Dante to York Hospital for treatment of the infection.
Holt alleged Mullinix was largely responsible for abusing and neglecting Dante that summer. Another man she was with then was also accused of abusing the boy.
After Sept. 6, investigators learned the 2-year-old actually had genital herpes, as well as a wrist that had previously been broken but never treated.
Members of the jury believed Dante’s death was a homicide, but not one Bowie caused.
“In my mind, it was a planned murder,” Brashears said.
Most felt a new investigation should be opened.
Mullinix, 26, is charged with a felony count of child endangerment in the case.
Urich said she doubted a new homicide case could be pursued, saying there would be a problematic perception that prosecutors are working down a line until they get a conviction.
“It’s going to be hard to pin it and win in court with a jury,” she said.
Wiseman held onto a slim hope that justice will prevail for Dante.
“I don’t know that we’ll ever see it, but I would like to think that someday someone will come forward or will be found to be guilty of what happened to Dante,” Wiseman said.
Lingering questions for the jurors post-trial include: why wasn’t there an investigation into who gave Dante herpes; Mullinix and Dante’s whereabouts during the few days leading up to Sept. 6; and messages between Mullinix and other people she associated with at that time, which may have explained where newer bruises on Dante came from.
The prosecution’s allegation that Bowie flew into a violent rage didn’t make sense to jurors, they said.
Wiseman noted the video from the gas station showed Bowie give Dante a hug while they waited at the checkout counter.
“It melted all our hearts. That’s not somebody that’s gonna an hour later kill this kid,” she said.
Wiseman further explained Bowie wasn’t seen as an inherently violent person, and that evidence showed he was affectionate toward Dante while trying to help him and Mullinix.
The 16-to-19-minute window in which prosecutors alleged Dante was beaten seemed impossible in this case, the jurors said.
“It’s possible, I think, if somebody has anger issues or a history of it. And if he did, I’m pretty sure the prosecution would’ve found somebody to come up there and tell us all about it. But you don’t go from loving a kid the way that he did to murdering them in 19 minutes,” Wiseman said.
Beginning to end, the trial ran 17 days over four weeks in December. The group said the panel of 12 jurors and four alternates didn’t need that much time to hear the case.
“It really would have been nice to get (Bowie) out by Christmas,” said Denise Thompson, of York City, an alternate juror.
Reading the not-guilty verdicts on all the counts on Dec. 30 brought out a lot of emotions.
“I think one of the biggest highlights was when the verdict was read and we went back in the jury room. There was tears, there was hugs,” Wiseman said.
“That was a super emotional day,” Witmer agreed.
The group bonded over that month.
“We’re all like family now. We keep in touch,” Wentz said.
To process everything they heard and saw, and because they couldn’t talk to anybody else about the case over those four weeks, the group said they discussed it among themselves in the jury room during court recesses.
“We had to discuss it,” Wiseman said. “It was pretty brutal for some of us with the pictures and the details. It was very difficult, so we became each other’s listening boards for how we were dealing with what we were seeing and what we were doing.”
The intensity of the testimony and evidence took their tolls over all those days.
“It was mentally exhausting, every night. And you wake up in the middle of the night, at least I did, thinking about it, thinking about what this poor child had gone through,” Wentz said.
“I did a Zoom call with my daughter and I’m like, ‘I just need to see the baby. I need to see a healthy, happy baby,’” said Wiseman.
Dorwart said she hoped other criminal investigations weren’t handled similarly to the conduct the group saw in the Bowie investigation.
“I just don’t want this to happen to somebody else. It’s terrible that it happened to Tyree. I don’t know who else this is happening to. I want to believe in our justice system,” she said. “You’ve got to go in and do your job the way it’s supposed to be done and get true justice, whatever that is, not just what you want it to be.”
Mullinix is next due in court for a hearing in her case on Jan. 18. She’s free on an unsecured $10,000 bond, court records show.
— Reach Aimee Ambrose at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.