Mariah Dawson

Toddler died at hands of abusive mother

July 8, 2010

CROWN POINT | After her toddler's death last September, Maya Levee Willis allegedly told the child's former baby sitter the 19-month-old succumbed to a seizure.

But in pursuing murder charges against the 31-year-old Willis, police claim a substance found in the dent of a wall in Willis' apartment matches the child's DNA profile.

Lake County prosecutors charged Willis, of East Chicago, on Tuesday with murder, two counts of battery and four counts of neglect of a dependent.

According to a seven-page probable cause affidavit filed in Lake Superior Court, Willis is charged with repeatedly abusing and finally killing her daughter, Mariah Dawson, one of four children born to Willis by as many men.

The court document depicts Mariah as an unwanted child who, in her resemblance to her father, drew her mother's rage.

An autopsy report shows the child died of head injuries and blunt force trauma to the body. Contributing factors included vaginal and rectal injuries consistent with sexual abuse, according to the pathologist's report. Multiple old scars covered her body.

East Chicago Police Chief Gus Flores said Wednesday the allegations are among the worst to have crossed his desk.

Flores described Willis as almost 6 feet tall and weighing about 200 pounds.

"This is among the saddest, most disgusting cases I've ever read," Flores said of the documents prepared to launch the case.

"I can't imagine the hell this poor child lived through," Flores said about the child's injuries. "She appears to have been old enough to know what was happening to her."

The child's condition came to light when police were called Sept. 30, 2009, to the emergency room at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago, where the child was declared dead, the court documents show.

The child is described as covered with bruises, scars and marks all over her body, including a big bump on the back of her head, a laceration to the lower lip and a cut and bleeding gum line.

Further examinations revealed vaginal swelling, anal trauma and a distended abdomen.

In statements to police, Willis said the child fell in a hallway and began crying. Willis said she later noticed the child's left side was "paralyzed looking." The child appeared to stop breathing in the car as she drove to the hospital, she told authorities.

Willis denied causing any of the fresh injuries, though she is alleged to have admitted to disciplining the child by "popping her on the hands and legs with a plastic spaghetti or pasta scooper and with a short piece of belt."

Police recovered two belts with similar markings to ones found on Mariah's back, the court documents state.

Willis is alleged to have explained burn scars on the child's back and head to a set of hot curlers falling on the child.

Willis later changed her story by telling investigators the child's fatal injury stemmed from a fall from a bunk bed.

Willis' remaining three children are in state custody, according to court documents.


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