Emotional testimony from the family of a toddler found dead in a motorhome in late 2016 was heard Monday in an El Cajon courtroom as trial began for an Alpine man accused in the child's death.
Wiliey Foster was the last person to see 18-month-old Leah Brown-Meza alive according to prosecutors. Her body was discovered inside a motorhome parked outside of a home on Hunter Lane on Dec. 6, 2016.
In the days before her death, the toddler suffered severe and extensive brain bleeding, a broken arm and a burn to the bottom of her foot, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office.
The night before the toddler's body was discovered, Foster told his girlfriend, Lillie Brown, he had put her daughter to bed in the motorhome and then spent some time playing video games in the main house where his own child slept, according to San Diego County Sheriff's Department (SDSO) homicide investigators.
According to prosecutors, Leah's mother returned home that night and went straight to bed without checking on her. Brown woke up at about 11:30 a.m., pulled the blanket off the toddler and noticed she was blue and cold, according to investigators.
The defendant called his mother and asked what to do and they were told to call 911.
The defense argued that Foster wanted to take Leah to the hospital but Brown fought against it because she was afraid of losing custody of her daughter.
The child's mother Lillie Brown, a member of the Viejas tribe, was originally charged with three counts of willful cruelty to a child with great bodily injury and/or death.
Foster's defense attorney, Jan Ronis, argued that Brown suffered from drug addiction which left her at times unable to care for her daughter.
"She would basically impose upon Mr. Foster the care of that child because she was too neglectful or too lazy or under the influence of drugs or something else," Ronis said.
The defense argued that Leah's injuries were inflicted over a four-day period of abuse.
SDSO Deputy Brian Patterson testified that Brown told investigators she never hurt her baby and she was not present when her daughter was abused.
Foster, Brown's boyfriend, faces charges of murder and assault on a child with force likely to produce great bodily harm or death.
The defendant said he put Leah to bed at 9:30 p.m. and checked on her the next morning at 6 a.m. and the child was fine, according to investigators.
Prosecutors said blood stains were found on a tank top and shorts owned by Foster and were shown to match the victim.
When Foster was informed investigators would need to process his clothes, he became upset, according to testimony in a pretrial hearing.
"She was a very happy, very charismatic baby," the toddler's grandmother Teresa Cousins said.
Cousins testified that Leah could only crawl and rarely fell when trying to walk. She also said that Leah wasn't a clumsy child and that she never saw her with any injuries while in her mother's custody.
The child's biological father, a member of the Jamul Indian Village, shared joint custody with Brown. Leah was the great-granddaughter of the man who led the tribe over three decades and helped establish it as a band in the Kumeyaay Nation.
Leah's paternal great-grandfather, Kenneth Meza, is currently the Vice Chair for the Jamul Indian Village, one of 13 bands of the Kumeyaay Nation. He served as Chair of the tribe for more than 30 years and was instrumental in getting the band recognized by the federal government.