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Prosecutors used this diagram to detail the upper torso injuries inflicted on their victim by Jessica Coffey and Phillip Norman who got 60 years in prison. (Photo: Walter Geiger)

Couple convicted in beaten baby case; each sentenced to 60 years in penitentiary

After a four-day trial that included often excruciating testimony of child abuse, a Lamar County couple was found guilty of beating a two-month-old girl, causing horrific injures to her little body.

The jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts against Jessica Miranda Coffey, 32, and Phillip Luke Norman, 31. Those convictions came on three counts first degree cruelty to children, one count second degree cruelty to children and three counts of aggravated battery.

The jury, which consisted of four males and eight females, got the case at 1 p.m. Thursday and returned the verdicts after three hours and 40 minutes of deliberations.

Chief assistant district attorney Wayne Jernigan asked for a sentence of 29 years; one year for each broken bone the child suffered.

Jessica Miranda Coffey stands at the defense table in handcuffs after being convicted on all counts. (Photo: Walter Geiger)

Once the verdicts were read by the jury foreman in open court, Judge Bill Fears sentenced both Coffey and Norman to 60 years in prison and 60 years on probation. “This is as bad as I have seen in my 20 years on the bench,” Judge Fears said.

After sentencing, both defendants were cuffed. Norman sat and wept. Coffey stood stoically at the defense table and showed very little emotion.

Both Norman and Coffey took the stand to testify in their own defense and neither did much to help their cause.

Norman said he discovered the baby’s leg to be swollen after changing her diaper at their apartment at Milner Creek on Feb. 9, 2021. “I went to look at a house. We only had a week to move out. I told Jessica to take her to the hospital. I noticed the baby would cry longer than what I thought was normal,” Norman testified.

Coffey testified she saw the swollen leg while putting the baby in a car seat. “I decided to go to the hospital. When they told me she had a broken bone, I almost fainted,” Coffey said.

Her testimony was often rambling and twice she had to be told to just answer yes or no to questions.

Both defense attorneys argued that prosecutors had brought forth very little evidence.

Scott Johnston, who represented Norman, noted his client was not the biological father of the baby though he had signed her birth certificate.

“The state put up 19 witnesses and we have not heard a shred of evidence of who hurt this child. This is a glaring lack of evidence,” Johnston argued in his closing statement.

Dep. Michael Martin (left) cuffs Phillip Norman after his conviction in Lamar superior court. (Photo: Walter Geiger)

Attorney Bradley Moody, who represented Coffey, likened the state’s case to balsam wood. “What we’re left with is an injured baby and no idea who did it,” Moody argued in his closing.

Assistant district attorney Max Smith agreed the state’s case was circumstantial. “Sometimes your victim can’t speak to you,” he said.

Smith laid out the critical time frame of the case. The baby was born healthy on Dec. 13, 2020. At pediatric appointments on Dec. 20, 2020 and Dec. 30, 2020, she was fine and in good health.

On Jan 17-18, 2021, neighbors heard “plaintive” crying from the apartment Coffey and Norman shared with the baby and Coffey’s two sons.

The child had a pediatric appointment on Jan. 20, 2021. Coffey took a photo of the baby which showed a bruised ear lobe, a key indicator of child abuse. As a licensed day care operator, she knew that warning sign, Smith said. Coffey canceled the appointment and texted the photo to Norman, asking him about it.

On Jan. 26, 2021, Coffey called law enforcement to their apartment and had Norman removed. Three days later he was back. On Jan. 30, 2021, the two exchanged photos of rib bruising on the baby via text.

The jury viewed the photos during Smith’s closing. Upon presenting one photo, Smith emphasized, “Look at that photo. The child looks dead. She’s blue. But no one called for help.”

Smith noted the child had no medical care for three weeks and, during that period, Coffey was at home with her 24-7. “They even exchanged a video of the child. They both knew of these visible injuries. Somebody was beating that baby up,” Smith argued.

Those injuries included multiple fractures, bruised legs, bruised ribs and two dislocated elbows. “The doctor testified both her arms and legs were useless,” Smith noted.

Smith directed the jury back to Norman’s testimony in which he said he and Coffey had a fine relationship until the child was born and then things went bad.

“Phillip was left at home with three children who were not his own. Jessica was back at work. He was tired. He got no sleep. Did he yank her legs and arms to try to quiet her,” he asked the jurors?

Coffey and Norman were transported to the Lamar County jail, the beginning of the long period of confinement that awaits them.

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