Medical examiner rules Cullman 1-year-old's death a homicide - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Medical examiner rules Cullman 1-year-old's death a homicide

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An undated family photo of Hoss Benham. An undated family photo of Hoss Benham.
An undated family photo of Hoss Benham. An undated family photo of Hoss Benham.
Jeffery Hugh Brown. Source: Cullman County Sheriff's Office Jeffery Hugh Brown. Source: Cullman County Sheriff's Office
Crystial Ballenger. Source: Cullman County Sheriff's Office Crystial Ballenger. Source: Cullman County Sheriff's Office
Jeffery Brown's niece, Brittney Thomas, says her uncle is not capable of killing a child. Source: WBRC video Jeffery Brown's niece, Brittney Thomas, says her uncle is not capable of killing a child. Source: WBRC video
CULLMAN COUNTY, AL (WBRC) -

A state medical examiner has ruled the death of a Cullman one-year-old as a homicide.

The court affadavit also reveals that Hoss Wayne Benham, 1, had multiple injuries the night of his death, including new and old bruising and what appears to be burns on his feet.

Benham reportedly drowned in the bathtub at his home in Monk's Trailer Park on U.S. Highway 31 on Tuesday, March 11, according to Sheriff Mike Rainey. The child was taken to Cullman Regional Medical Center and was pronounced dead on Tuesday night, which was his first birthday.

Benham's mother, Crystial Ballenger, 23, and her boyfriend, Jeffery Hugh Brown, 37, have each been charged with aggravated child abuse in the boy's death. They are being held on a bond of $30,000 each.

According to the affadavit, Ballenger initially told investigators that she was giving Hoss a bath when he went under and sucked in some water. She says she pulled him out and water came out of his mouth. She says he appeared to be fine until Brown found Hoss not breathing. She says they then took Hoss to the hospital.

However, Brown initially told investigators that when he arrived home March 11, Ballenger was cooking while Hoss was in the tub and was fine. He says when he went to check on the baby again, Hoss was slumped under the water. Brown says he pulled Hoss out of the tub, "got water out of his stomach by pushing on him." Brown says Hoss was breathing fine until he threw up water. He says that's when he and Ballenger took Hoss to the hospital.

March 13, Ballenger told investigators that unrelated to the March 11 events, she had witnessed Brown giving Hoss Tabasco sauce as a punishment to make him stop crying. She then said that on the night Hoss died, it was Brown that was giving Hoss a bath. She says she witnessed Brown holding Hoss under water for 20 to 25 seconds.

Ballenger said that Brown told her he was teaching Hoss how to float. She said Brown then performed CPR on Hoss and that he seemed fine after water came out of his mouth. The pair put Hoss to bed and later found him not breathing normally.

FOX6 News spoke with Brown's niece, Brittney Thomas, about the allegations against her uncle.

"He's a good man and there's no way he was capable of killing a one-year-old baby on his birthday. He's not that kind of a man. He's not," Thomas said.

An autopsy revealed baby Hoss had bruising on the back of his head with skull fractures. He also had new and old bruising on other parts of his body and cuts in his mouth.

The baby may have had more injuries, which will be determined by further forensic testing.

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