Facing the past
Siblings testify in 1995 toddler's death
BARSTOW • Jacquetta Graves looked her aunt and uncle in the eyes Friday as she described the morning she said they killed her toddler brother over a slice of pizza in 1995.
Her eyes went glossy red and her voice trembled as she recalled how her aunt stomped on her 3-year-old brother’s stomach and back — 15 to 20 times — ultimately killing him.
Graves and two siblings testified in court Friday in the murder trial of Duree Pettress, 55, and her husband Lafayette Pettress, 58. The two are charged in the murder of Tycoon Graves after years of blaming the act on his 9-year-old sister.
Evelyn Graves told the court her aunt threatened to kill her if she didn’t say she beat her brother to death. She said out of fear she told Barstow police she beat her brother. The case was closed until Jacquetta Graves came to police with an alternate story in February 2011.
Only 6 years old at the time, Jacquetta Graves said she yelled “Stop auntie, stop auntie!” while her aunt stomped on Tycoon and intermittently shook him over the toilet, yelling “Spit it out.”
Jacquetta Graves said she also remembered looking at her uncle, Lafayette Pettress, who pretended to sleep on the couch and did nothing to stop the beating.
Evelyn said when the beating was over, Tycoon’s body was limp. She said she felt his skin was cold so she wrapped him in a blanket and rocked him back and forth in front of a heater.
When asked if he ever warmed up, she said, quietly, “No.” That’s when she started to cry.
Both Evelyn and Jacquetta Graves described the Pettress’s discipline as severe and frequent during the year or so they and their four other siblings were in the Pettress’s custody.
Evelyn said they would beat the children with shoes, fists, belt, anything they could. Jacquetta said the two brothers received harsher punishment and were kicked into the wall or even beaten with a security guard baton.
As Jacquetta Graves looked her aunt in the eyes, glaring throughout her testimony, she said, she felt a weight had been lifted.
“It was just a relief to at least be in there and tell people what happened to us,” Jacquetta Graves said. “It’s a relief to finally tell our story.”
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