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Gary de Toma Jr, five years old: father charged with his murder

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Gary de Toma Jr, five years old: father charged with his murder

Post  AnnaEsse on Sun 18 Jul - 11:20


Gary DeToma seemed like a loving dad to neighbors.

He skipped work to take his two boys to the park. He took them on trips to see their grandparents. And on Sunday night, neighbors saw him outside their Decatur apartment, as usual, watching over the boys as they rode their bikes.

But by Monday morning, something had gone terribly wrong. Police were pounding on the door of DeToma's apartment, and he wouldn't let them in. Later in the day, a co-worker peered into a window and saw DeToma's 5-year-old, Gary Jr., sprawled on a bed. The boy later was pronounced dead.

Gary DeToma made an initial court appearance late Tuesday afternoon to face charges of murder and aggravated assault. Police told WSB-TV that DeToma may have tried to strangle his other child, Will, 4.

The father said nothing during the brief hearing in Decatur Municipal Court. He shuffled in with his ankles and wrists in locks and his feet clad in peach-colored sandals, then sat quietly as a sudden squall slapped raindrops against the windows. He was sent back to the county jail after a preliminary hearing was scheduled for Aug. 12.

Police offered no motive, but the dead boy's parents were going through a divorce. Blue Spruell, the divorce attorney for the mother, said the dead child had marks on his neck and ruptured blood vessels in his eyes. He said he suspects it was DeToma's way of getting back at the boys' mother.

“It was not a good divorce,” Spruell said, adding that Gary DeToma wanted full custody of the children.

“He was a controlling personality,” Spruell said. “It was a six-year marriage. They had two things to be thankful for from that marriage, and he’s taken one of them.”

Next door neighbor Felicia Miller said Gary Jr. was a "beautiful" child and that his father seemed to cherish him. He often took the boys to nearby McCoy Park, and had recently cut back on work to spend more time with them, she said. The family had taken trips to visit grandparents in Mississippi and a cave in Tennessee, she said.

"He was the kind of dad that you would want for your child," Miller told the AJC. Or at least, that's what she thought until Monday evening, when she learned of the boy's death.

Miller said Melanie DeToma moved to a nearby apartment several months ago. Miller had noticed the couple arguing at times, and said Melanie told her last winter that the marriage was falling apart.

Melanie DeToma kept a blog entitled “My Boys’ World.” The photos of the boys and their parents suggest a happy family.

She wrote that she wanted to call her second born “Billy” after her father, but “Gary, my husband, didn't like the idea… So, he's Will, well, when he's not Bubba," she wrote Nov. 15, 2007.

Miller, the neighbor, said Gary, an electrician, was the sole breadwinner. The couple moved from Lithonia to the apartment on East Lake Drive in Decatur's Oakhurst neighborhood a year and a half ago, in search of good schools, Miller said. Melanie DeToma told her she had quit working when she became pregnant so she could stay home with her children.

In April 2009, Melanie DeToma bemoaned sending Gary Jr. to pre-kindergarten and Will to a Head Start program.

“I'm not going to know how to behave with all those kid-free hours on my hands,” she wrote in her blog.

Spruell said Melanie DeToma left her husband in January and sought an uncontested divorce.

The two DeTomas had reached a temporary agreement through mediation, but a final settlement had not yet been reached or filed in court, Spruell said.

The visitation agreement was that the father would have his sons on alternate Fridays until the following Monday morning. This Monday, however, he did not bring the children to his soon-to-be ex-mother-in-law as was the agreement, Spruell said.

That prompted Melanie DeToma to call her lawyer, who called Gary DeToma's attorney.

Spruell and his client then called Decatur police, the DeKalb Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Family and Children Services, but the agencies said there was not enough to allow them to go into Gary DeToma’s apartment without permission.

“We tried to get the property owner and the property manager to let us in, and they said they wouldn’t unless the police let us in,” Spruell said.

“We did everything thing that we could do and not a single government entity wanted to help us out,” Spruell said.

Decatur police said no one responded when an officer went to the door earlier Monday.

"The residence was secure and the officers observed nothing suspicious," the police said in a statement.

Spruell and Melanie DeToma also called Gary DeToma’s employer, who said he had not come to work. State Sun Electric declined to comment.

Melanie DeToma knocked on Miller's door around 8 a.m. and asked her to call the property manager. Miller said the property manager came over immediately, but told police she couldn't let them in. Miller said she was surprised that one of the boys hadn't opened the door. They often opened it for no reason after learning how to, she said, and surely would have answered a knock. She said she was also surprised to see Gary DeToma's van outside the apartment. He usually left for work by 6:30 a.m.

Miller left for work. Later, one of Gary DeToma’s co-workers came to check on him. When Gary DeToma didn’t answer his knocks, the co-worker, an electrician, took an extension ladder off his truck and climbed up to look into a bedroom window, Spruell said. He saw Gary Jr.’s body on a bed, the attorney said.

The co-worker was able to persuade the younger boy to open the door.

“He went in and saw Mr. DeToma and the little boy was deceased,” Spruell said.

Moments later, Melanie DeToma made her second trip of the day to the her husband’s apartment.

When she drove up, she saw the co-worker standing on the sidewalk with Will, still in his pajamas.

A police report says an officer who was dispatched to the apartment just before 1 p.m. found the dead boy. The official cause of Gary Jr.'s death is pending an autopsy to be performed Tuesday, but the results will not be released until a toxicology report is completed in two to three weeks.

Tuesday's court hearing occurred in a living room-sized space. The presiding judge, Edward Carriere, told the defendant -- and the knot of family members seated at the back of the courtroom -- that he was more accustomed to traffic offenses than crimes of this severity.

Deputy Decatur Police Chief Keith Lee told the AJC that the city hadn't seen a murder since a homeless man was bludgeoned on a downtown street more than two years ago.

"We have our crime," he said, "but violent crime of this nature is rare, thank God."

The death has left neighbors such as Miller struggling to make sense of the sudden loss of a child they knew. On Sunday evening, she saw Gary DeToma with his boys as they road their blue bicycles outside the apartment. The younger boy was frustrated because he couldn't ride as fast as Gary Jr., who was recently liberated from training wheels.

Her own boy, who is 7, played with the DeToma boys, and as of Tuesday afternoon, she hadn't yet told him about Gary Jr.'s death.

"He's going to ask," Miller said, as her son squeezed past her out the apartment door with a scooter. "I'm hoping it's not going to be as hard as I think it's going to be," she said, "but I'm going to have to tell him."

"You can run on for a long time, Run on for a long time, Run on for a long time, Sooner or later God'll cut you down." (Johnny Cash)

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