Woman convicted of second-degree murder for starving 7-week-old baby to death

Assistant Macomb County Prosecutor Molly Zappitell, chief of the Child Protection Unit, argues in front of a jury Thursday at the trial of Shantavia Hayden in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens.MACOMB DAILY PHOTO/JAMESON COOK 

A 29-year-old Warren woman was convicted Thursday of second-degree murder and second-degree child abuse for fatally starving her 7-week-old son.

A Macomb County Circuit Court jury deliberated about two hours following a more than one-week trial before announcing the conviction of Shantavia Hayden for the October 2020 death of A’mir Griffin.

“We are happy that the jury listened intently to all of the evidence and rendered a verdict that delivered justice for baby A’mir,” Assistant Macomb Prosecutor Colleen Worden said following the verdict.

Hayden faces a term of any number of years up to life when she is sentenced Nov. 2 by Judge James Biernat Jr. Her sentencing guideline range suggests a minimum term of 13-½ years behind bars, Worden said.

Shantavia Hayden appears at her second-degree murder trial Thursday in Macomb County Circuit Court.MACOMB DAILY PHOTO/JAMESON COOK 

During closing arguments Thursday morning, Assistant Prosecutor Molly Zappitell told jurors A’mir went from a normal baby after birth to a malnourished child his entire brief life.

“Everything was fine with A’mir except he didn’t have food,” Zappitell said. “He starved to death. There is no other cause of death.”

Prosecutors didn’t have to explain why Hayden failed to care for her child.

“It’s something we all struggle with, but it’s not something I have to prove,” Zappitell said.

At the start of the trial, a few supporters of Hayden attended the trial, but none were present for closing arguments.

Hayden brought an unresponsive A’mir to Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit at 5:30 a.m. Oct. 11, 2020.

Children’s Hospital emergency room physician Dr. Jennifer Noble testified last week A’mir had been dead for a few hours as he was showing signs of rigor mortis. She said she still performed life-saving efforts.

“The skin is draping around the bones because there is no fat left. The fat has been used,” Noble said of A’mir’s condition.

Zappitell displayed two photographs of A’mir on a big screen: one from the hospital and one from his autopsy which shows his extremely malnourished condition. A’mir at the hospital was “a chunky little baby. Look what happened to him seven weeks later,” she said.

A’mir Griffin at his birth hospital.(MACOMB DAILY PHOTO FROM COURT IMAGE) 

Dr. Leigh Hlavaty, who performed the autopsy, testified last week that A’mire’s stomach and colon were empty, meaning the child had received no nourishment for at least seven days.

Hlavaty, who was the deputy medical examiner in Wayne County at the time, said A’mir’s body began to consume his muscles to try to stay alive.

A’mir’s weight declined from his birth weight of over 5 pounds, she said.

Zappitell asserted Hayden may not have intentionally tried to kill Amir but created a high risk of death or great bodily harm in which death was a likely result, an element of second-degree murder. She speculated perhaps Hayden was angry at A’mir’s father for not being involved with the child, although one of her three other children was also fathered by him, Zappitell said. She said the three other children were “very well fed.”

Hayden never took A’mir for a doctor’s visit and downplayed his condition to paramedics after she called 911 to her residence 10 days before Amir’s death due to him choking up baby formula, Zappitell said.

Zappitell accused of Hayden of lying to police when she said after the baby’s death she had fed him 12 hours before and had been feeding him three to four bottles of baby formula per day, although that amount is about half of what a baby needs to survive.

During her police interview, Hayden repeatedly said she fed her baby. After the questioning was over and she was alone in the interview room, she said, “I don’t know what the f— to do. I hurt my baby,” according to a video-audio recording.

Hayden lied to receive more governmental assistance than she was entitled to, such as state unemployment benefits, and federal benefits under Women, Children, Infants (WIC), Zappitell said.

“That goes to her character to assess credibility,” Zappitell said.

She obtained 16 cans of food from WIC during A’mir’s life, seven of them three days before he died. She received $15,000 in jobless benefits in four months as well as food stamps and cash from the state, the prosecution showed.

Zapitell said Hayden may have spent some money on drugs as there is evidence she was a drug user. A’mir was born with drugs in his system but by the time he left the hospital four days later, was drug-free and a normal baby, according to testimony.

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During his closing argument, Hayden’s attorney, Andrew Hubbs, said Hayden did not receive more benefits than she deserved and that she “was a struggling mother.”

After A’mir’s death, she was “struggling with the loss of her child,” he said.

He asked jurors to find her not guilty because the “prosecution has not proved its case” and “so she can move on with her life and the grieving process.”

Judge James Biernat Jr., who presided over the more than one-week trial, rejected Hubb’s request to allow the jury to consider manslaughter as a potential verdict.