Dead baby had fractured skull, broken ribs, bite marks; father arrested

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- Phoenix police say they have arrested the father in the suspicious death of a 1-month-old girl.

Police spokesman Sgt. Trent Crump said the father, Duryea Bennett, will be charged with murder and child abuse.

Police and firefighters responded to a 911 call near 43rd Avenue and Baseline Road just after 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Crump said the caller gave limited information about a child being injured.

Based on the information received, the call was dispatched as a drowning incident, according to Phoenix Fire Capt. Tony Mure.

He said the incident apparently happened in a bathtub but had not officially been ruled a drowning.

Natalyah Bennett had no vital signs when first responders arrived on the scene.

According to Sgt. Trent Crump, paramedics noticed bruising as they worked on her and rushed her to Phoenix Children's Hospital. As doctors at PCH tried to save Natalyah, they discovered that the baby had suffered more than "extensive bruising."

"The hospital staff found numerous injuries to the infant to include numerous bruises, a skull fracture, fractured ribs, bite marks and injuries consistent with a sexual assault," Crump wrote in an email to media outlets.

Natalyah died at the hospital.

Her mother was not home at the time of the incident, but there were six other children in Bennett's care, including Natalyah's twin sister. The oldest of those kids is 14.

According to court paperwork, it was that 14-year-old, Natalyah's big brother, who called 911.

"None of the other children showed signs of abuse however the investigation is ongoing," according to Crump.

In his probable cause statement, the arresting officer said Bennett told him it was his first time alone with his baby and her twin sister, and that his fiancee was at work all day.

According to the statement, Bennett told officers that Natalyah choked on milk and that he hit her on her back and stomach in an effort to revive her. That court paperwork also said Bennett "admitted to biting the victim numerous times in an attempt to revive her."

"I was bathing the child. The child started choking or hyperventilating like she was having seizure maybe from me feeding her too much milk," Bennett said during his initial court appearance. "And I panicked. I didn’t know anything about CPR so I started to use my hands like you do a grown person like maybe hitting on her chest too hard, spanking her on the butt."

"I’m a victim of trying to bring my child back to life but not knowing the procedure on how to do it," said Bennett.

"As far as child abuse, to me that’s like super-crazy to me because when my child wouldn’t come back I just fell down on my dining room table with her in my arms. I don’t know if that imposed my physical, as they say, abuse to her but that’s what happened," said Bennett.

Doctors at PCH said Natalyah's injuries -- "extensive bruising over most of the infant's torso, bruising on the feet, bite marks on the victim's torso, and head trauma" -- would not have been caused by the attempted administration of CPR.

Police arrested Bennett, 39, on suspicion of first-degree murder and child abuse.

Commissioner David Vincent Seyer set a secured appearance bond of $1 million for Bennett. Seyer also scheduled a preliminary hearing for Oct. 20.

At the initial court appearance, the deputy county attorney said Bennett has three prior felony convictions and one failure to appear offense.