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Religion drove beatings of boy, 7, until he died, mother testifies

When he lied, they beat him.

When he didn’t read the Bible, they beat him. When he fell asleep reading, they beat him.

When he came home with a bad grade, they beat him.

Even when he told the truth, they beat him.

Until eventually he passed out and died.

Seven-year-old Roderick “RJ” Arrington would fall to his knees and get back up as his mother and her husband, who is on trial in Las Vegas for murder of the second-grader, took turns punishing the boy, she told a Clark County jury Wednesday.

They used a belt, a coaxial cable, a shoe, a broom stick and a wooden brush that snapped on RJ’s backside.

Markiece Palmer wanted honesty, his wife Dina Palmer said from the witness stand, but when RJ was too forthcoming about his feelings, he was still whipped.

“Mark had asked RJ if he hated him,” Dina Palmer testified, explaining one of the last encounters of the boy’s life.

At first, RJ said no.

“Be honest with me,” Markiece Palmer told the boy.

He said yes.

“Why do you hate me?”

“Because you whoop me.”

“You wouldn’t get in trouble if you wouldn’t lie.”

Yet the Palmers beat RJ again.

Dina Palmer, who pleaded guilty in September to two counts of child abuse in exchange for her testimony at her husband’s trial, spent more than four hours of her 29th birthday in District Judge David Barker’s courtroom detailing the weeks of abuse.

RJ died in late November 2012, his body riddled with welts, bruises and cuts on his arms, abdomen, back, legs, thighs and buttocks. The boy’s brain was swollen from having been slammed up against his bedroom wall.

Dina Palmer first told police that RJ hit his head while running away from her husband.

But on Wednesday she said Markiece Palmer had picked up the boy and started to shake him, when his head snapped back and struck the wall.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Staudaher showed a photo of the wall with a round crack at 6-feet, 3-inches high.

Moments after RJ’s head smashed the drywall, he told his mother he wasn’t feeling well.

“I feel like I’m going to throw up,” he said. “My stomach is hurting.”

Then his body went limp, and he passed out.

Markiece Palmer thought he was faking.

His mother placed the boy in a bathtub, ran water over his body and splashed his face. But he didn’t wake.

They talked about dialing 911, as she rocked the boy in her arms and prayed.

RJ died the next day, Nov. 30, 2012, at University Medical Center.

The boy had only known Markiece Palmer for a couple months. RJ’s mother moved to California to marry the man in November 2011, while RJ stayed with his father and other relatives.

In a months-long online courtship, the now 36-year-old Markiece Palmer, who also faces two counts of child abuse against RJ, had convinced the boy’s mother that God was real and Jesus died for their sins.

By the latter half of 2012, the couple had moved to Las Vegas, living out of suitcases after getting kicked out of apartments and friends’ homes. RJ came to live with them in September 2012 and they found a place in the central valley.

Maria Mendoza, a neighbor who drove RJ to school on Nov. 28, 2012, testified Tuesday that she told school officials the second-grader had trouble walking and sitting. She also called Clark County Child Protective Services with her suspicions. The night before, she heard yelling between a man and woman in the apartment next door.

A school counselor called a child welfare hotline with suspicions of abuse at the boy’s home, but social workers never responded to the school. RJ died two days later.

Because school employees did not observe the extent of RJ’s injuries, the hotline worker who took the call had assigned a 24-hour response from Clark County Child Protective Services.

Yuluanda Greenberry, a CPS investigator assigned to RJ’s case, testified Tuesday that the calls “should have been handled differently.”

RJ would sometimes cry because he wanted to go back home and live with his grandmother in Illinois, his mother testified, but he remained stoic during the beatings.

On the night before RJ was hospitalized, Markiece and Dina Palmer took turns beating the boy as he stood with his arms out against the wall, she testified.

“He would try to get back up,” Staudaher said. “And one of the issues that plagued both you and Markiece throughout all of this was that RJ never cried. … He didn’t shed a single tear during the beatings.”

“Did you believe that it was because he was rebelling against you and Markiece? That he was defiant? That it made you upset that he wouldn’t cry? That you wanted to break him of that? And Markiece clearly wanted to break him of that?”

Dina Palmer admitted she was “by no means innocent” in the abuse, often beating RJ until she became tired.

On cross examination, she told jurors that she was whipped with belts, cords and hangars as a child, but she said it was rare and couldn’t recall specific beatings.

She had always believed in the proverb “spare the rod, spoil the child.”

In an interview recorded at University Medical Center and played for the jury, she told police she beat RJ because she didn’t want him to grow up and become a “thug” or a “statistic.”

While the boy was in surgery, she prayed aloud: “Jesus, please let my son be OK.”

Markiece Palmer — whom Dina Palmer said she loved with all her heart — thought her son might have been possessed by the devil, she testified, and the couple wanted to instill religion in RJ.

She learned from her husband to “chastise (children) to drive sin from them, in the form of correcting,” Dina Palmer told jurors.

She relied on Markiece Palmer’s interpretation of scripture.

“If you love your child,” he told her, “whip him, beat him, so he won’t die.”

Contact reporter David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker

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