Newborn boy’s suffering and death on full display as parents blame each another at start of Richmond murder trial

Defense debates physical abuse versus meth overdose

Amary Darn lived for only five weeks before passing out inside the second-floor Richmond hotel room where he spent almost his entire life and dying in a hospital.

According to authorities, Amary suffered more during those five weeks than most adults will in their lifetime.

Amary was covered in sores, burns, and mold by the time his parents took him to the hospital. He had broken ribs, a broken femur, a broken wrist, and a fractured skull. Methamphetamine was found in his bloodstream but not in his stomach or intestines. An autopsy later revealed that he had been starved, not just malnourished.

Amary’s parents, Ray Ray Darn, 37, and Marilyn Northington, 30, are now on trial in Contra Costa County on charges of murder, assault on a child resulting in death, and child abuse. Prosecutors revealed the horrific details of Amary’s brief life and agonizing February 2021 death for the first time at the start of their trial on Wednesday, while both defense attorneys pointed fingers across the table at the other defendant. Each parent is expected to portray themselves as helpless victims who were unaware of their partner’s abuse.

Amary’s death was ruled a homicide due to abuse, blunt force trauma, neglect, and pneumonia, but there are numerous potential causes of death that could have occurred on their own.

Amary died of a methamphetamine overdose caused by Northington’s toxic breast milk, according to Darn’s attorney, who used his opening statement to paint Northington as an uncaring drug addict. Darn, according to Northington’s attorney, was a controlling, abusive, and manipulative husband who beat their helpless baby whenever she left the room, leaving her unaware that her baby was on the verge of death.

Both parents are to blame, according to Deputy District Attorney Kevin Bell, who is prosecuting the case. As he began his opening statement with a long list of injuries discovered on Amary after he was taken to Kaiser Hospital in Richmond, his voice began to crack.

“The two people in this world who were supposed to love him, care for him, and ensure his safety betrayed him,” Bell told a jury of 12 and four alternates.”They just let him die.”

As if Amary’s physical injuries weren’t bad enough, there was evidence that the abuse had gone on for days, if not weeks, Bell said. Amary’s seven broken ribs were in various stages of healing, indicating that they occurred at different times. His femur bone had been snapped all the way through, and swelling indicated that the injury had occurred at least days before. Mold, lesions, and burn marks covered up to 10% of his body, according to the prosecutor. One particular burn mark stood out.

“It was almost like he’d been branded on his leg,” Bell remarked.

Darn’s attorney, David Moakley, began his opening statement by asking the jury a rhetorical question: “How much meth can a 5-week-old baby tolerate?” He then paused for emphasis.

“Zero!” Moakley yelled. “There is no meth. Any amount, let alone a 5-week-old infant, can kill.”

He then laid out his case to the jury before the trial begins: Northington killed her son with breastmilk.

“She knew it would kill him, and she did it anyway,” Moakley explained. “Mr. Darn is completely innocent.”

Northington, who was sitting directly behind Moakley at an L-shaped table, glared at the lawyer as he said those words.

Near the end of his statement, Moakley admitted his client was a “terrible father” who would leave his family in the hotel room to use heroin and occasionally used methamphetamine to counteract the effects of the heroin. He claimed that when Darn brought Amary to the hospital, he was nodding off and struggling to stay awake while doctors operated on the newborn.

Evan Kuluk, an Alternate Defender’s Office attorney who represents Northington, gave jurors an abridged version of her entire life story. Her parents were abusive and drug addicts, and she struggled in school until she was diagnosed with an intellectual disability. As an adult, she is “naive, passive, and easily influenced,” making her an easy target for the “manipulative, controlling” Darn, who isolated her from her family and forced her to rely entirely on him, according to Kuluk.

“She’s always had someone telling her what to do,” Kuluk explained, later adding, “Marilyn had no idea what Ray Ray did with Amary when she wasn’t watching… Marilyn had no idea her child’s life was in danger.”

The countdown to Amary’s death only added to the tragedy, because the family’s situation appeared to be improving, according to attorneys. They’d struggled to find housing, sleeping in cars and living on the street when they couldn’t afford to stay in a relative’s garage or a hotel. They qualified for the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program in late 2020, which provided the family with housing at the Courtyard by Marriott in Richmond.

Amary was born a few days after Christmas in the year 2020. The only doctor’s note from Amary’s Jan. 17 medical appointment was that he appeared a little underweight for his age, but nothing to be concerned about with a child born two weeks premature. The doctor advised Northington to switch to formula feeding, which she did, according to Kuluk.

On Jan. 18, Northington returned Amary to the doctor, who delighted in informing her that Amary had gained two ounces since the previous day. They scheduled another meeting for two weeks later, but neither Amary nor Northington showed up.

It was too late by the time Amary arrived at Kaiser Hospital on February 4, 2021.

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