Lauderdale County woman convicted of beating 3-year-old child to death in 2020

WAFF 48s Aria Pons Reporting
Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 6:44 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 25, 2023 at 7:13 AM CDT
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FLORENCE, Ala. (WAFF) - A woman in Lauderdale County has been convicted of beating a 3-year-old child to death in 2020.

Yalrick Pride was charged with felony murder after she and her boyfriend, Blake Townsend, attempted to make the death of Kaiden Gardner look like a hot car death. An autopsy revealed that the young boy’s death was the result of trauma from a blunt object.

Townsend was charged with capital murder but pleaded guilty to aggravated child abuse in his plea deal. Part of the plea deal was that he would spend life in prison and provide testimony in Pride’s trial.

WAFF 48 News was in the courtroom throughout the 9-day trial, you can read the details of the trial below.

On the first day of the trial, the jury was able to see a video from a police interrogation room where Pride was by herself and saying things to herself to provide comfort. While watching herself, Pride reached for a box of tissue.

The next day, Townsend was on the stand for hours as he testified against Pride. He told the jury his version of events that led up to the child’s death.

Townsend said that he walked in to see Pride repeatedly hitting his child with a belt. While Townsend told his side of things, Pride shook her head multiple times signaling that she disagreed with his story.

The defense cross-examined him and called him negligent and asked if he had ever cared about anyone in his life. He replied:

“Deep down inside every night I cry,” he said. “Every night I think about how I could’ve been a better father to him.”

On the following day, Sergeant Josh Hein was on the stand as was one of the investigators looking into Kaiden’s death. Sgt. Hein and his partner were seen in the interrogation videos grilling Pride about the boy’s death.

Prosecutors said that investigators were able to track Pride’s cellphone to see if her story of the hot car death was true. They cracked down on Pride’s credibility by stating that she gave a different version of where she was, who she was with, and when she saw the child on the day he died.

In the interrogation videos, Pride stated that she never laid a hand on the child and that he was perfectly fine in the late hours of Aug. 12, 2020. However, the autopsy had determined that Kaiden had died sometime around 8 p.m. meaning it was three hours before the 911 call. Police said the coroner was in shock at how severe the injuries to the boy were.

In one of the interrogation videos played Pride told officers that she had long nails and that she could not ball her hand into a fist. Once the video ended a prosecutor asked Hein if he had told Pride that Kaiden was killed by a punch to the torso.

Hein responded by saying that he had not told her that before she made the comment about her nails. The courtroom was visually shocked by this discovery.

On the next trial day, the defense made a plan to prove her innocence by focusing on three things from the investigation; Showing that Townsend, the victim’s father, may have been abusive to Pride, that Kaiden had an unusual sleep schedule, and how willing Pride has been to help investigators.

They claimed that Kaiden’s unusual sleep schedule was relevant because Pride was accused of either directly contributing to his death or being negligent that the child was dying.

The argument that Pride was willing to help investigators was that she went to the station every time she was requested, handed over her phone without a password whenever they wanted it, and with every interview she never requested a lawyer.

In an interview with Pride’s youngest brother who was played for the jury, it showed how he described Pride and her interaction with the victim. What he said in the video contradicted what Pride had said about never hitting the victim.

Her brother said he had seen Pride “whoop” Kaiden with a belt before. When he was asked who the belt was he responded by saying “Lyric’s” (referring to Pride’s first name, Yalrick). In multiple interviews played, Pride repeatedly said she had never laid a hand on Kaiden.

The knowledge of who the belt belonged to was important to prosecutors because when photographs were taken from Pride’s apartment the night Kaiden died, two belts were lying on the floor in the living room. One of the belts was torn in half, prosecutors believed the belt could have been used to discipline Kaiden.

On the next day, six witnesses took the stand, two of the witnesses were Pride’s sister and mother. Her younger sister talked about Pride’s relationship with Townsend and how the two had dated for three years.

Pride’s lawyers stated that Townsend should be the only one held responsible for Kaiden’s death because he was abusive. At the start of their investigation, the officer asked Pride repeatedly if Townsend was abusive to her or anyone else, she stated that he was not abusive in multiple interviews which were shown during the trial.

However, Pride’s 17-year-old sister testified that she had seen Townsend hit Pride. Prosecutors used that to argue that Pride is a liar.

Before the defense rested its case on the next day, three more witnesses were called to the stand. One of those witnesses was Pride’s sister Malakin West. Like with Pride’s other family members who took the stand, the defense focused on asking West about Pride’s relationship with Townsend.

West testified that she had seen Townsend throw furniture at Pride but prosecutors immediately debunked that by saying West had told investigators the opposite.

District Attorney Chris Connolly said that he was ready to close the case and bring closure to the victim’s family.

“It’s been an exhausting couple of weeks for us and the victim so we’re looking forward to getting this trial completed,” he said. “Their family are here in court and you know your heart just goes out to them to have to sit through this and relive it. It reopens the wounds and takes you back to that day especially since it just happened to come up on the three-year anniversary of what happened to him. So, it’s been tough.”

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