The younger brother of a 7-year-old boy who was allegedly starved to death by his legal guardians took the stand Friday by way of closed-circuit television and testified that his brother pleaded for food and water.
Prosecutors said the 6-year-old boy witnessed the starvation and torture firsthand, and had tried to steal scraps of food to feed his half-brother who had been locked in the bottom shelf of a linen closet for weeks.
When deputy district attorney Verna Carpenter asked him where his brother, Chandler Grafner, was the boy replied, "He's in heaven."
The boy said he and Chandler would play cars together but when Chandler got in trouble, he would get a timeout, sometimes in the bedroom but sometimes locked in the closet. When Chandler was in the closet, he would lay down and sometimes go to the bathroom inside the closet, the boy said.
He said Chandler asked to be let out.
"He said he needed to go to the bathroom .... 'I'm hungry and thirsty,'" the boy said.
But the boy said "Daddy Jon and Mommy Sarah" wouldn't always let him out. The boy said Chandler would eat when his parents fed him but they didn't always give him food.
"He asked me to get him food," the boy said.
The boy said he himself had to go to the closet sometimes, but he didn't like it because it was dark. He described the closet as small, and said the lower shelf was just over his head when he sat down.
Clad in a Spiderman T-shirt and shorts, the boy was reluctant to speak at first. He was fidgety and fixated on a small toy he had in his hand. Eventually, Carpenter asked if she could have the toy and if he could sit up and speak up.
When he continued to mumble his answers, she prodded, "Big strong voice. We need to hear you."
When she asked him how Chandler looked on the day firefighters took him away, the brother replied, "I think he was sick."
Chandler weighed 34 pounds when he died last year. His legal guardian, Jon Phillips, is being tried on first-degree murder and child abuse charges. Phillips is an ex-boyfriend of Chandler's mother and father to Chandler's half-brother.
Phillips showed no emotion as he watched his son testify against him on the TV screen.
The defense didn't want the jury to infer that because he wasn't in the same room, that the boy was afraid of his father, so the judge explained the reason for the closed-circuit TV. He said the boy was testifying in the room next to the courtroom because it is very intimidating for someone his age to speak in front of a jury and a packed courtroom.
After Chandler died, the brother led homicide investigators to a Dumpster where a soiled air mattress and carpet from the closet had been dumped hours earlier.
The brother is now staying with a foster family.
Chandler Threatened To Kill For Water
Authorities said Chandler was so thirsty that he threatened to kill for a drink of water, court evidence revealed Thursday.
The boy's plea for water was revealed in a voice mail message. Phillips' girlfriend, Sarah Berry, left the message for Phillips nine days before the boy's death.
Denver police detective Larry Moore read a transcription of the message in court.
"Hey babe, sorry to bother you at work. I just had a question. (Chandler's younger half-brother) just called me over and said Chandler told him that you and I better get him something to drink or he's going to get out of there, come into the kitchen, get a knife and kill us both with a knife."
Prosecutors said the message was recorded April 28, 2007.
Chandler died on May 6, 2007.
Doctor Says Boy Died Of Starvation
The cause of 7-year-old's death was a heart attack, according to an autopsy.
Phillips' defense attorney maintains that Chandler was not locked up or starved, but died of an undiagnosed diabetic condition.
The medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Chandler took the stand Friday morning, and testified that the boy did not die from diabetes because he had a normal pancreas and a normal amount of insulin.
"The cause of death is dehydration and starvation due to restricting fluid and caloric intake," Dr. Robert Whitmore said in court.
No food was found in Chandler's stomach during the autopsy, Whitmore said.
He also testified that sores found on Chandler's body were consistent with those caused by close confinement. He said the boy had sunken eyes, dry flaky skin, multiple contusions and bruises of varying age, and thin hair that pulled out easily.
"Basically, he looked like a skeleton," Whitmore said. "You can tell from just doing enough autopsies when the tissues are dehydrated or not and his were dehydrated internally."
Phillips and Berry, who were Chandler's legal guardians but are not related to him, are accused of starving the boy and forcing him to defecate on himself.
Detective Describes Small Closet
While on the stand Thursday, the detective investigating the case explained a number of exhibit photos, showing the small size of the linen closet where police say Chandler was kept. The space measured 35 inches wide, 29 inches deep and 18 inches tall -- no larger than an oven, he said.
Moore said feces was found under the bottom shelf of the closet and on the closet door.
Moore testified that a screw placed in the joint of the folding door, and twine on the outer knobs prevented it from opening. A video camera focused on the living room and kitchen was found, along with bits of food hidden in the heating vent in the boys' room, Moore said.
Investigators discovered cans of air fresheners and an air purifier in the couple's apartment but Moore noted that he smelled a strong odor of urine, feces and cleaning products when he walked inside the home. A litter box was found in the apartment but Moore said it did not seem to be the source of the foul odor.
He also found a note that read, "God says listen to mom and dad. Do not lie. Do not steal. Do not blame your brother for what you do. Be thankful for what you have." Above it was a picture of Chandler and his brother.
Chandler's Teachers Talk Of Abuse
Chandler's former teachers told jurors Thursday about their concerns of possible abuse four months before he died.
"He had a pretty amazing, creative imagination," said a tearful Amy Sellard Domanski, who was a teacher's aide at Holm Elementary.
Domanski said Chandler was a "hand holder" and confided in her about bruises on his right ear in January 2007.
"I saw an ear that was black and purple," Domanski told jurors. "He said, 'My dad clobbered me.'"
Beverly Kibble, who was Chandler's kindergarten teacher, also asked Chandler what happened.
"He said, 'My dad held me in the shower and kept hitting my ear,'" Kibble said.
Jurors were told Denver Human Services was contacted on Jan. 17. Maureen Hogan, who was acting principal at the time, said she didn't receive a call back.
Five days later, after he spent several days at home with his guardians, Chandler told school staff members he'd been to the police station earlier in the day and didn't want to answer any more questions. He said he slipped on the tub and that he was not hit, his teachers said.
"And I said, 'School is a safe place to be,'" Hogan recalled while pausing briefly on the stand. "I told him it's not OK for anyone to hurt you, and it doesn't matter who they are."
That was the last time Chandler was in school.
A staffer at Swedish Medical Center said when Chandler was wheeled into the hospital, he looked like a concentration camp victim.
"He was emaciated. His skin color was something yellow, grayish, blue. The skin was very abnormal. His fingernails were blue down by nail beds. He smelled like a dirty animal," said staffer Amber Rowell. "I've never seen anything like this. I've thought about that boy everyday."
She said when she talked to Phillips, he was stoic and very direct.
"I stayed in (Chandler's) room 5 to 8 minutes. The defendant never came in and asked to see the child or have last moments with child," said Rowell.
Berry's trial is set for later this month. She is being held without bond.
Phillips and Berry were given custody of Chandler and his half-brother in 2006 after their biological mother was charged with neglect. Chandler's father was in the Navy and moved away when he was born. The court also deemed their grandmother too ill to care for two young boys, as she was battling cancer. Phillips is the father of the Chandler's half-brother.
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