Provo mother, boyfriend charged in death of infant in 2012
Crime • Prosecutors say man caused fatal head trauma to 3-month-old Paxton Stokes last year.
Published: October 3, 2013 08:59PM
Updated: February 14, 2014 11:35PM
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Joshua Jay Harding

Nearly a year after 3-month-old Paxton Stokes died of head trauma, Provo police have arrested the child’s mother and her boyfriend.

Police arrested Brianna Brown, 29, Thursday evening for child abuse homicide. Brown’s live-in boyfriend, 30-year-old Joshua Jay Harding, was arrested one day earlier, though court documents supporting a first-degree felony count of child-abuse homicide initially had been filed in July by Deputy Utah County Attorney Sherry Ragan.

The July 29 charge was temporarily dismissed soon after it was filed while detectives, prosecutors and the medical examiner fine-tuned their case.

“We just wanted to be sure we had done all we could” to prepare a solid case against Harding, Ragan said, noting the medical examiner’s work — given the forensic evidence-gathering difficulties involved with such a young victim — had been “very meticulous.”

Provo police Lt. Mathew Siufanua also characterized the investigatory efforts of his department’s detectives as “very thorough.

“In any case like this, they just want to make sure they have all their ducks in a row, all the facts correct,” he added.

Provo police responded to 911 medical call the night of Nov. 27, 2012, and found the boy not breathing inside a home at 1074 W. 860 North. The child was taken to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later.

Siufanua said that Harding was living with Brown at the home but was not the baby’s biological father.

According to an affidavit filed in 4th District Court, Harding told police that he had taken the baby upstairs to change a diaper when the infant began crying. Harding claimed that after attempting to calm the child with a pacifier and a bottle, he finally left him in a bassinet to cry himself to sleep.

Harding claimed that when Brown went to check on the infant 20 minutes later, she found him unresponsive and not breathing.

However, the medical examiner found bruising on the baby’s left forehead, face and neck, as well as bruising and abrasions to the baby’s left leg and hip.

While Harding maintained he had done nothing to hurt the baby, the medical examiner’s final report declared the cause of death as a “closed head injury,” and the manner of death as homicide. Sifuanua said the baby appeared to have suffered from blunt trauma to the head.

Harding “was the only person who had access to the child during the critical time periods in this case. Further, evidence showed other injuries to the child and witness reports of defendant’s abusive behavior and short temper with Paxton,” Ragan maintained in filing the child abuse homicide charge.

Siufanua said Brown was arrested one day after Harding because investigators managed to piece together additional information that implicated her as well. Siufanua added that investigators believe Brown most likely knew that the child was being injured.

Harding remained in Utah County Jail on Thursday in lieu of $100,000 bail. Brown also was in custody Thursday evening.

remims@sltrib.com

Twitter: @remims