Reflecting on the 4 1/2 years that she had with her son, Shatika Lawson told a judge that she has happy memories.
Lawson said she takes responsibility for not bringing him to the hospital after the boy was burned in hot water. Now, when she cries, the tears are for him.
“I’m going to mourn about him forever,” Lawson, 44, said at her sentencing on a charge of child abuse resulting in death on Wednesday at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse in Baltimore. “He was a part of me: my morning, noon and night.”
Lawson and her wife, Alicia, have provided different accounts of what happened on July 23, 2019. At times, they have blamed each other for the injuries that 4-year-old Malachi Lawson suffered in a bathtub filled with scalding hot water at their home on North Spring Street, between Harford Avenue and North Caroline Street, in Oliver. They did not seek medical attention and tried to treat the burns themselves.
Later, Alicia Lawson found the child unresponsive, wrapped him in a blanket, took a Lyft, placed his body in a trash bag and tossed it into a dumpster about 10 miles away from their home. Law enforcement found his remains on Aug. 3, 2019.
When she handed down the sentence of 30 years in prison, plus five years’ probation, Circuit Judge Jeannie J. Hong said she believed that Shatika Lawson — up until that point — had been a good mother.
But Hong described the facts and circumstances of the crime as “unfathomable.” Children and the elderly, she said, are among the most vulnerable people in the world. She noted how the boy was “thrown away in a dumpster like trash.”
“I can’t even imagine the pain that Malachi must’ve gone through in those seven to eight days,” Hong said. “What happened was not humane.”
In 2021, Alicia Lawson, 29, pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death and received a sentence of 30 years in prison plus five years’ probation. Hong said she viewed them as equal parents.
Assistant State’s Attorney Rita Wisthoff-Ito called the failure to act so egregious that it warranted the maximum sentence under the plea agreement: 33 1/2 years in prison.
Even that punishment, Wisthoff-Ito said, was a “gift.”
Shatika Lawson, she said, served as the primary caretaker for Malachi, though she was not his biological mother. He would have survived his injuries if she had taken him to get medical treatment, Wisthoff-Ito said.
“How do you not see the severity of his injuries?” said Wisthoff-Ito, who projected crime scene and autopsy photos during her presentation. “He was dying.”
“There’s no good reason that this defendant did not take Malachi to the hospital,” she later added. “There was no reason he needed to die.”
But Roya Hanna, Shatika Lawson’s attorney, noted that her client has cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities and asked the judge to impose the lowest possible sentence under the plea agreement: 18 years in prison.
Shatika Lawson, she said, feared that if she took the boy to receive medical care, her spouse would leave and take the child away forever. Hanna said her client did everything she could to care for him and believed that he was healing.
“Miss Shatika Lawson cared for Malachi,” said Hanna, who noted that the boy was nonverbal and had developmental disabilities.
The scalding, she said, was not intentional. The landlord raised the temperature several days earlier on the water heater at the house, Hanna said.
Hanna said her client “loved this child more than anything.”
So, Hanna said, there was no sentence —18 years or 33 1/2 years in prison — that the judge could impose that would punish her client more than her continuing grief.