Verbal abuse and emotional issues caused by his mother's abandonment nearly drove Earnest Daise to suicide in 2001, a relative testified Tuesday during the sentencing phase of Daise's capital murder trial.
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Daise's great-aunt Janie Allen said she found Daise sitting in a car outside his grandmother's home with a pistol in 2001. Allen said Daise wanted to commit suicide, but she eventually talked him out of it.
Allen said during her testimony she believed Daise was nearly driven to commit suicide because of emotional issues caused by his mother leaving him and his sisters a decade before, and from years of verbal abuse he suffered from his grandmother's boyfriend.
Jurors heard testimony from members of Daise's family and experts Tuesday, part of the defense's case to explore Daise's troubled origins.
A jury convicted Daise on Thursday of the November 2009 murders of Jeanine Mullen and her 4-year-old son, Waltfredo Davis-Mullen, as well as assault and battery with intent to kill for the wounding of his son, 2-year-old Jeremiah Daise.
Marida Daise, Earnest Daise's younger sister, began Tuesday's testimony. She spoke for about an hour, testifying that her brother raised her while their mother, Tracey Daise, battled crack cocaine addiction.
She said that Daise -- only an 8-year-old at the time -- taught her how to tie her shoes, helped dress her, took her to school and fed her while their mother was away, sometimes for days at a time.
"All I had was Earnest," she said. "I wasn't scared because I had him."
During that time, Tracey Daise would beat her son and abandoned her children emotionally, social and family development expert Dr. Arlene Andrews testified. Andrews, a professor of social work at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, put together a comprehensive social history of Daise's family as a witness for the defense.
Andrews said Tracey Daise beat Earnest with a belt, forcing him to strip naked and hold onto a bedpost while she hit him. Earnest was never told why he was being hit, Andrews said.
The beatings continued until relatives stepped in to take Tracey Daise's children away a few months after Niica Daise's birth in 1993, separating the three children from one another for the first time. Marida Daise said they were never told why they moved or were separated at the time, and were only told as they grew older and Tracey Daise overcame her addictions.
Marida Daise tearfully told the jury that she wanted to thank her brother for taking care of her when she was younger.
"If I had a problem, I could go to Earnest," she said. "He didn't have anybody he could run to."
Earnest Daise went to live with his great-aunt and uncle, Janie and Alvin Allen, once relatives stepped in. Daise lived with the Allen family for almost three full years, but Alvin Allen testified Daise had stayed with them periodically since 1990.
Alvin Allen said Daise was always respectful while in his home and around Allen's two daughters. Both Alvin and Janie Allen said Daise "fit right in" with his family and was treated like a son.
"It was like he had been with us all his life," Janie Allen said.
Daise was included in the family's activities, and he would even join Alvin Allen while he delivered newspapers in the early morning, he said. In the stable environment at the Allen home, Daise's grades at school improved, Janie Allen said.
Allen tried to contact Daise's father through the trucking company he worked for. Allen said Daise's father twice said he would visit his son, but never did.
Alvin Allen said he had talked about Daise's dream of becoming a truck driver during his visits to the Beaufort County Detention Center after his arrest in 2009.
After his mother returned to Beaufort in 1996, Daise and his sisters moved back in with her.
Tracey Daise relapsed within a few months, but Daise didn't return to the Allen home, instead moving in with his grandmother and her boyfriend, a man nicknamed Sammy.
Both Marida Daise and Janie Allen said Earnest Daise was the constant target of verbal abuse from Sammy, who would sometimes lock him out of the house at night if he was out too late. Marida said she would feed her brother through her bedroom window during these instances.
After moving in with his grandmother, Daise fell into an older crowd of heavy drinkers who would meet at his great-grandmother's home, Andrews said. It was there Daise began to abuse alcohol and marijuana, conditions that ran in the family, including a great-uncle who was too intoxicated to escape a mobile home fire in 2005, Andrews said.
A lack of structure at home and the emotional abuse he suffered eventually caused his school performance to suffer. Daise failed the ninth grade three times, Andrews said.
He also began to run into trouble with the law. He and another boy were arrested for stealing $19 from a fellow high school student in a 1997 strong-arm robbery. A year later, he was charged with possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and sent to a Department of Juvenile Justice facility, Andrews said.
Daise had no problems in the juvenile center and had excellent grades in his classes -- despite his struggles in Beaufort -- because of the structured environment at the facility, Andrews said. The Department of Juvenile Justice released Daise with recommendations on how to keep him out of trouble, including drug testing, counseling and rigid rules. None of the recommendations were applied to Daise, Andrews said.
Tuesday's session ended about 6 p.m., still in the midst of Andrews' testimony about Daise and his family. Andrews is expected to be the defense's final witness, with closing arguments today following the end of her testimony. A decision by the jury on Daise's sentence -- either life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty -- is expected by the end of the day today.
James Aiken, a former prison warden and current prison conditions consultant, testified that Daise could be managed for the rest of his life safely in a high-security prison. Aiken said he completed a risk security assessment of Daise based on his criminal record and an interview with Daise, but pointed to testimony from corrections officers Tuesday at the Beaufort County Detention Center as proof Daise could be handled safely.
Four officers testified Tuesday, saying Daise was respectful and that he caused no trouble while jailed there. Fourteenth Circuit Deputy Solicitor Sean Thornton cross-examined one officer, Jeffrey Lucas, who said he knew of assault charges Daise had in 2011 and 2013.
Aiken said assault wasn't an indicator of predatory behavior while incarcerated, because the assault in question -- the slapping of an inmate taunting him about his trial -- occurred in plain sight and in view of guards. Aiken said violent, predatory inmates typically attack out of sight, not in public.
Asked by Solicitor Duffie Stone about a charge Daise had for having a makeshift weapon, Aiken said Daise had no history of using weapons in fights he had been in. Aiken said the weapon Daise had hidden, a homemade knife wrapped in sheets, likely was a defensive weapon because he had never used it against others or himself.
THE MULLEN FAMILY
Marida Daise also testified about her relationship with the Mullen family, particularly Jeanine Mullen and her children.
Marida Daise said she was "very close" to Jeanine Mullen, saying that Mullen was like a "sister" to her. Daise and Mullen would regularly visit each other, and Jeanine Mullen occasionally would style Daise's hair, she said. The families also had plans to attend Thanksgiving together in Sumter in 2009, plans that were never realized.
Mullen's sons, Jaseri Mullen and Jeremiah Daise, spent the summer at Marida's house in Sumter before the murders, she testified. Jaseri Mullen was the person who called her and told her what had happened to Jeanine Mullen and her children.
"It was very, very painful losing her," she said. "She was a very good sister to me."
Marida Daise said she wanted to go to Jeanine and Waltfredo Mullen's funeral, but her family advised her against it, thinking the Mullen family would be upset if she did.
After her brother's arrest, she communicated with Roberta Mullen, Jeanine's mother and Jeremiah's caretaker.
Daise said she hoped she could reopen a relationship with Jeremiah and Jaseri in the future.
"Even though Jaseri isn't my blood nephew, I still love him like he is," she said.
Tweets from the trial:
- Sentencing phase in Dale double-murder trial begins, Oct. 21, 2013
- Earnest Daise found guilty in Dale double-murder trial, Oct. 17, 2013
- Dale double-murder victims shot at close range, expert says, Oct. 16, 2013
- Homicide victim's family: Mullen feared ex-boyfriend Daise, Oct. 15, 2013
- Dale double-murder death penalty trial starts, Oct. 14, 2013
- Trial date not yet set for 3-year-old Dale death-penalty case, Feb. 4, 2013
- Dale man accused of killing girlfriend, 4-year-old boy, faces death penalty, Jan. 24, 2011
- Bond denied for suspect in shooting deaths of mother, son, Dec. 14, 2009