NAPLES — Todd Allen Akers took the stand Monday and testified his confession—that he’d dropped 2½-year-old Abigail Rose Boran, pushed her and pulled a blanket out from under her—was only what detectives wanted him to say.
Akers, 29, of East Naples, testified Collier Sheriff’s detectives told him a toddler falling off a bed wouldn’t have caused Abby’s injuries and that detectives Ray Wilkinson and David Hurm told him she had six skull fractures and had to have been dropped, pushed or thrown.
“Did you follow his lead on those suggested answers?” defense attorney Kevin Shirley asked Akers, referring to Wilkinson, during a suppression hearing.
“Pretty much,” Akers said as he sat in the witness box in an orange jail jumpsuit, a day before his trial on premeditated first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse charges. He faces an automatic life sentence if convicted.
Shirley, a court-appointed attorney, asked Akers about incidents the suspect described for detectives during a three-hour videotaped interrogation May 5 and 6, 2006, as Abby lay in a Tampa hospital undergoing surgery. Akers, who was engaged to the child’s mother at the time, has been in the county jail ever since. Abby died a day later, when doctors took her off life support as her parents, Nicole Napier, and father, Ryan Boran, both of Naples, held her.
“You told Detective Wilkinson that Abigail bounced off a bed and hit her head. So was that particular event made up?” Shirley asked Akers.
“Pretty much,” Akers said. “It was what they wanted to hear.”
Shirley asked why he’d given detectives so many different false statements, and Akers said detectives told him they’d called the hospital and that doctors said she’d suffered six skull fractures.
“There had to be six incidents,” Akers said detectives told him. “One was not enough.”
But Assistant State Attorney Steve Maresca pointed out Akers had studied computers and went to college for a year, prompting Akers to concede he was intelligent. But he said he was terrified during questioning.
“They kept asking me, ‘Did I just give up and drop her?” he told Maresca. “... After about 10 times, I just gave up and said, ‘Yeah, I dropped her.’ “
The 6-foot Akers had shown detectives how he’d cradled the crying 33-pound girl, then let her drop four feet to the floor and onto her head, Maresca noted and Akers agreed.
Dr. Gregory DeClue, a defense psychologist and “confessionologist,” testified Akers had slightly below average intelligence and was “psychologically coerced” into saying he’d hurt the toddler because detectives told him they were trying to help him.
“I’m just trying to help you here,” DeClue quoted detectives. “I’m giving you an opportunity. ... All I want to do is help you. ... We’re not here to say you did this out of meanness or did this intentionally.”
“... What the detective is telling him is, ‘If you just tell us you dropped her, I’ll turn off the tape and we’re going home,’“ DeClue said, contending detectives minimized the incident’s seriousness.
In addition to skull fractures, an autopsy showed bruises on Abby’s scalp, chest, thighs, lower leg, stomach, back, upper arm, wrist — and hemorrhages. The fractures were “high-velocity” injuries, not caused from being dropped. Brain injuries suggested she might have been shaken. Abby would have been 3 years old June 4, days after she died.
Akers initially denied hurting the child, telling detectives she hit her head falling out of bed. He called 911 following the injuries.
During Maresca’s cross-examination, DeClue admitted he wasn’t calling it a false confession. Yet he contended the detectives’ techniques could make an innocent person “seriously tempted to confess” if told the evidence was incontrovertible and no one else could have done it.
Maresca pointed out that if Akers were coerced, he never explained Abby’s injuries, and nothing Akers described could have caused them.
At one point, Maresca and DeClue went back and forth on Maresca's contention that Akers wasn't coerced and didn't give detectives what they were seeking. "Can you answer the question?" a frustrated Maresca asked.
"I think I did. I don't mean to be a smart ass, but ..." DeClue testified, detailing his report to prove his point that Akers provided scenarios for each fracture.
During arguments, Maresca cited case law that says if an expert isn't testifying it's a false confession, his testimony is irrelevant, inadmissible. Maresca maintained that under the "Frye standard," involving scientific evidence, DeClue should be barred from testifying at all, while Shirley argued jurors should be allowed to weigh his testimony and credibility.
Hardt will rule this morning whether he will grant Shirley's motion to suppress the videotaped interrogation, which will determine if jurors see it, and if he will allow DeClue to testify as an expert.
The judge then heard Maresca's Williams Rule motion. If granted, it allows the prosecution to show prior bad acts, past incidents Akers detailed about abuse against Abby, to prove his motive, intent and lack of mistake or accident.
Napier testified Akers, a beverage and beer deliveryman, often called her at work, at a restaurant or Macy's, to say Abby had hurt herself at home. "He called one time and said, 'When you come home, Abby is going to have a fat lip. She was running through the house ... and fell on her sippy cup,' " Napier said.
In another, she testified he told her Abby would have a bruise on her head when she came home because she'd jumped on the couch and fell, while another time, he said he found a hand-shaped bruise on her. There were other times she came home and found injuries, but she believed they were from rough-housing at day care.
During cross-examination, she denied the problems at day care were physical, saying the owner's child was just "mean" to Abby. (The day care was investigated and shut down because it wasn't licensed.)
Maresca argued Napier's testimony corroborated incidents Akers detailed, while Shirley said they explained some "sparse admissions."
The judge allowed Williams Rule testimony, including Akers' admission that he hit her head with his hand and her red, plastic phone. A panel of 40 jurors will be brought in this morning for voire dire, jury selection. The trial will involve 13 witnesses, including doctors, but Shirley said he'd only call DeClue and Akers.