LOCAL

Mother pleads guilty to child endangerment in Dante Mullinix's death

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

Leah Mullinix pleaded guilty Wednesday to a charge of child endangerment related to her 2-year-old son Dante's 2018 death.

The 26-year-old made an open plea to the third-degree felony charge in court while free on an unsecured bail, two weeks after a York County jury acquitted her ex-boyfriend Tyree Bowie of homicide. Wednesday's plea, however, wasn’t a surprise because she'd already admitted numerous times to neglecting and endangering Dante when she testified last month at Bowie's trial.

Mullinix spent about three days on the stand, testifying first for the prosecution before Bowie’s attorney put her through a grueling grilling. The testimony, sometimes disturbing, became a portrait of how she and Dante lived that summer and what she put him through.

Leah Mullinix

The open plea itself went relatively quickly, taking a few minutes to go through the process. There was no sentence yet.

York County Court of Common Pleas Judge Amber Kraft read the charging information.

She said Mullinix endangered Dante by failing to get medication for her ailing son, “despite knowing he was in so much pain,” and for leaving him in a critical condition under her “paramour’s” care — “paramour” referred to Bowie.

“Yes,” said Mullinix, making the admission.

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Her sister Sarah Mullinix; Bowie and members of his family; Bowie’s attorney, Farley Holt; and several supporters watched from the gallery. So did York City Police detectives, including Sgt. Kyle Hower, the lead investigator in the case.

“I was happy that she took some ownership of what happened, but it’s still not everything,” Sarah Mullinix said after the hearing.

She has advocated for justice in Dante’s death since 2018 and professed Bowie’s innocence. She’s accused police of failing to properly investigate the case, as well as York County Children Youth & Families of not heeding concerns about her nephew’s welfare.

Bowie saw Mullinix’s plea as inevitable.

“I just felt like she had no choice but to take it," he said following the hearing. "If she would’ve taken it to trial, she would’ve lost, and that’s more time.”

Tyree Bowie, of York City, during an interview at The York Dispatch in West Manchester Township, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

'Not fair': Bowie said more needs to be done in the case.

“It’s not fair that I lost four years of my life for something I didn’t do, and she gets to take a plea. It’s not right,” Bowie said, noting that no one offered him a plea during the time he awaited trial at York County Prison.

After the plea, Judge Kraft ordered a pre-sentence investigation along with mental health and drug and alcohol evaluations. Mullinix’s attorney, Joshua Neiderhiser, noted she’s currently in substance abuse counseling.

To complete the processes, Kraft agreed to push back sentencing 60 days. She scheduled the hearing for April 20.

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Mullinix was initially charged in January 2019, about four months after Bowie was arrested and charged with murder and child endangerment.

From the investigation, Mullinix had gone to York Hospital for a migraine the night of Sept. 6, 2018. And Bowie agreed to babysit Dante for her.

But, prosecutors alleged Bowie beat and “bludgeoned” the boy while the two were alone together that night, causing severe injuries, before bringing him back to the hospital.

Bowie denied the accusations. He insisted Dante choked on a cookie and stopped breathing as he took him back to Mullinix at the hospital.

The jury sided with Bowie. After a four-week trial, they found him not guilty on all counts.

Several jurors later expressed beliefs that Mullinix was largely responsible for Dante’s death through ongoing abuse and neglect. They too believed the investigation focused on the wrong suspect.

In the weeks before Dante's death: Mullinix moved with Dante from Adams County to York County in the summer of 2018 while she was 21 years old and had a child welfare case open with the Adams County Children & Youth Services agency, according to testimony at Bowie’s trial.

She and her son were homeless, largely living out of her car over a couple of months, which included sleeping through hot nights.

Mullinix described in her testimony how she was allowed to park it at the homes of two men identified as Latin Kings gang members at different times. She was kicked out of one place that August before going to the other.

Sometime after leaving, Mullinix said she noticed Dante had a genital infection but didn’t go to a doctor. The infection was initially thought to be balanitis but was later revealed as herpes.

On Aug. 19, after connecting with him on Facebook, Mullinix met Bowie face-to-face for the first time.

A certain relationship developed over those next few weeks. Though sex once entered the equation, Bowie and Mullinix differed at trial on the relationship’s intensity. He said they weren’t romantic. But he did feel a paternal affection for Dante, according to testimony.

Dante Mullinix

Bowie said he noticed bruises on the boy when they met, and he asked Mullinix about them at different times. He testified she accused one of the men she stayed with, identified at trial as Hector “Holiday” Rivera, of beating and possibly molesting Dante.

Sarah Mullinix has said York County CYF was contacted multiple times about Dante’s welfare that summer.

She also filed a petition in Adams County to take custody of the child. The petition ultimately failed because Leah Mullinix didn’t attend a hearing in early September, and Dante died while the case was postponed.

Assistance from Bowie: Meanwhile, Bowie took steps to help Leah Mullinix and Dante, such as buying them fast food and giving her some cash as their relationship grew, according to trial testimony.

He also helped them enter a domestic violence shelter downtown, with Rivera listed as the concern, by the end of that August.

Soon after, CYF became involved when a complaint came from shelter staff about Dante crying relentlessly. His genital infection had worsened. A CYF worker took them to York Hospital for a couple of exams as August rolled into September, and medication was prescribed for Dante.

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Mullinix didn’t pick up the prescription the first time, police alleged. She had to be brought back so the medication could be put in her hands.

A nurse practitioner testified she didn’t want to let Dante leave with Mullinix after an appointment on Sept. 2 because of concerns she had for him.

Four days later, after a third hospital visit on Sept. 6, Bowie hung out with Mullinix and Dante throughout the afternoon and into the evening.

Dante seemed listless that day, Bowie and Mullinix both testified — he didn’t show much appetite and apparently threw up at least once while the three were at the home where Bowie was staying.

A short time later, Mullinix announced she had a migraine and needed treatment, so the three went back to the hospital and dropped Mullinix off.

Bowie then headed back to his place and stopped at a gas station first. He testified Dante had dropped to his knees on the floor of his car before they went into the store.

When they got back home, Bowie said the boy fell again while getting out of the car, landing on the door frame.

The two ended up hanging out at the car for about an hour, according to Bowie, because he thought he lost his house key — it had slipped from his pants into his shoe, he said. Over most of that time, he and Mullinix kept in touch through instant messages and video calls.

But within a 16-minute window of radio silence at close to 10 p.m., prosecutors alleged Bowie struck while he and Dante were alone.

They described a scenario of allegations that Bowie beat, “bludgeoned,” kicked and strangled Dante, causing injuries so severe and traumatic to the child’s brain, they would have had immediate effects.

An autopsy concluded the child died from traumatic brain injury coupled with suffocation and strangulation.

Prosecutors argued Dante couldn’t have been conscious and walking with such injuries. And since he was seen at the gas station earlier in the evening, the violence must have occurred afterward.

Bowie denied that.

He said after hanging out in the car in the early September heat, he decided to take Dante back to Mullinix at the hospital. They head out, and he gave Dante a Teddy Grahams cookie as a snack.

But as they drove south down George Street, Bowie said he noticed Dante was choking.

He said pulled the boy to the front seat near the 3rd Base bar and tried to dig the cookie out of his throat. He also did a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which he said blew cookie goop through Dante’s nose and onto his clothes.

A medical examiner for the defense gave a competing opinion that the child died from choking, which cut off oxygen to his brain and caused it to swell.

Bowie testified he kept trying to get Dante to breathe again while also rushing to the hospital, and while he was frantic on a video call with Mullinix.

Security video showed Bowie meet Mullinix outside the hospital as he brought Dante, limp and lifeless, into the emergency department shortly after 10:20 p.m.

Staff intubated Dante. New bruises and injuries were also documented on his body, joining those recorded from the earlier visits.

Dante was transferred to Hershey Medical Center later that night for further treatment. He died nine days later on Sept. 15.

While at Hershey Medical Center, doctors learned one of Dante’s wrists was once broken, untreated and never healed correctly. The genital herpes was also diagnosed.

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Neither Bowie nor Mullinix have herpes, according to records.

Mullinix denied during her testimony that she beat and brutalized her son.

She said the York County District Attorney’s Office gave no specific promises or consideration for her testimony but that she hoped for leniency.

She also stated either Sgt. Hower or the D.A.’s Office arranged for her to be released from York County Prison on a $10,000 unsecured bail shortly after she was charged.

And though Rivera’s name was spoken several times as connected to Mullinix and Dante, he has not been charged in the case.

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