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Murder charge stands in toddler’s death


LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The California Supreme Court today refused to hear the case against a Hawthorne man convicted of his 2-year-old stepdaughter’s beating death.

The state’s highest court denied a defense petition, asking it to review the case against James Vernon Ward IV, who was convicted of first-degree murder in October 2010, along with assault and child abuse charges, as well as a special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of rape by instrument.

Ward, sentenced in February 2011, is imprisoned for life.

In April, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention there was not enough evidence to support Ward’s conviction in Kayla Smoot’s September 2007 death.

The girl, who was having trouble with potty-training, suffered a lacerated liver, kidney and pancreas, as well as rib fractures and bruising to the spinal cord.

She was killed “in an act of rage” while Ward was on leave to take care of a newborn son, Deputy District Attorney Kendra Carman said shortly after Ward’s conviction.

In its April 25 ruling, the appellate court panel found that the toddler “sustained her injuries during the morning of Sept. 7 when she was alone with Ward (and an infant child), and constitutes substantial evidence supporting the murder conviction and true findings on the rape by instrument special circumstance.”