During a preliminary hearing this week, new details emerged regarding the death of Jelani Taylor, a 2-month old who died under the care of her Canyon Country father.
The witnesses during the prelim hearing — a hearing used to determine if the case should head to trial — said that her father, Marcel Taylor, was “flat” and “calm” in his reaction to his baby girl being found unresponsive in the early morning on Sept. 26, 2021.
However, the defense, on cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses, seemed to allude that the injuries caused to the child could have been the result of complications with her two months earlier, a complicated medical disorder that wasn’t tested for, or caused by any number of the various first responders — from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, to Los Angeles County Fire Department to American Medical Response — that caused the injuries on Taylor’s body.
The Morning Of
According to her mother, Britney Peeples, her daughter Jelani was born as a healthy baby girl in a birthing house on July 31, 2021.
Over the next two months of her life, Jelani was reportedly a healthy baby — for the most part.
Peeples reported from the stand that while she took her daughter regularly to the doctor, the 2-month-old at times was seen with her “eyes rolled up to the ceiling” and on the day in question had “red dots in her eyes.” He also had abnormal breathing patterns when sleeping.
The 2-month-old’s mother said she informed her midwives of the health developments of her daughter, and they informed her it was “pressure” on her baby’s brain but not something that needs to be urgently addressed.
On the day of Sept. 25, 2021, multiple witnesses confirmed or testified to Peeples reporting that she and her daughter had been at a child’s birthday party during the day.
Upon it becoming nighttime, Peeples dropped her daughter off with Marcel, saying that she was heading back out to hang out with the people who had been at the party previously.
The first responders and detectives then testified that Taylor told them that at approximately 1 a.m., the father fed and burped Jelani. Then, when he awoke, according to Detective Art Spencer of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau, at 3 a.m. he found his daughter unresponsive.
The two homicide detectives who testified reported that Taylor is believed to have violently shook his baby upon finding her not breathing at 3 a.m. Spencer testified that he asked Taylor to demonstrate on a teddy bear how he shook his daughter, stating the doll was shook “back and forth” and side to side by Taylor.
Detective Annie Ng of the LASD Special Victims Bureau said the child reached the hospital and a doctor in the PICU informed her that the baby was in “grim and grave” condition with brain swelling.
Although alive when she arrived at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital on Sept. 26, three days later Jelani Taylor was pronounced dead at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Taylor, according to testimony provided by Dr. Odey Okpo, a medical examiner with the L.A. County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office, died of blunt head and neck trauma and had brain swelling, bleeding of the brain, bleeding in the back of the eyes, and fresh bleeding around the nerves of her spinal cord at the time of her death.
She also had, according to Okpo, a handful of broken ribs that had been healing over the course of a few weeks.
The cause of death was ruled a “homicide,” Okpo said.
During cross-examination, Taylor’s defense attorney, Edward Yim, asked how blood found in Jelani’s crib may have gotten there, to which Spencer stated that nothing “in the investigation determined how the blood got there.”
Furthermore, Yim emphasized through his questioning of the witnesses that Taylor had no previous record of abusing Taylor and that, as far as anyone knew, he had been a good father until the morning in question. In fact, Ng testified that Peeples was “dismayed” at the questioning that Jelani’s father may have been abusive, indicating she had never seen him acting violently toward the young girl.
According to multiple witnesses, Taylor had administered CPR to his child at the 9-1-1 operator’s instruction. He had also not moved her due to similar instruction.
However, it was his reaction in the immediate aftermath that Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami seemed to hone in on with his witnesses and questioning.
Nearly all five of the Los Angeles County Fire Department personnel who testified described a smell of marijuana in the house when they arrived to the call shortly after 3 a.m. Additionally, they — as well as the responding law enforcement officials — described Marcel’s reaction as “flat” or “unphased,” from the initial call to the hospital.
“His demeanor was not the norm for a parent in that situation,” said Fire Department Capt. Kevin Garcia, who responded to the call that morning. “He wasn’t aware of the severity of the child …. It wasn’t a typical response.”
According to the first responders, usually in those types of situations, someone is attempting to flag them down from the street — especially in an apartment complex of that size where homes may be difficult to find.
However, no one was on the street to flag them down that morning on the 18000 block of Grace Lane, said Garcia. In fact, Marcel’s brother, who came to the door when first responders arrived, was reportedly “surprised” that they were there.
Garcia testified that Taylor told them that he had “put the baby down to sleep and (then) found in the condition that we found her in.”
In the wake of Jelani being taken to the hospital, a child abuse case was opened and on Nov. 4 Marcel James Taylor was arrested.
His next arraignment — where a defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty — is scheduled for Oct. 12.
He is being held in lieu of $2 million bail.