GALVESTON, Texas — A lengthy summation of the life of a convicted child killer was on display Wednesday, as jurors heard how the defendant was sexually abused and neglected as a child.
Travis James Mullis’ defense team presented its first witness in his punishment hearing, a defense investigator who chronicled his troubled childhood.
Mullis, 24, was convicted Friday of capital murder in the Jan. 29, 2008, stomping death of his 3-month-old son, Alijah. Sightseers found the boy’s body clad in a diaper on a berm near Galveston’s East Beach.
Mullis fled to the East Coast and surrendered Feb. 1, 2008, to Philadelphia police, where he confessed to repeatedly stomping Alijah’s head because it was the only way to stop his crying.
Prosecutors asked jurors in Judge John Ellisor’s 122nd District Court in Galveston to sentence Mullis to death. The jury must determine whether Mullis will die or spend life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Gina Vitale, a mitigation specialist for the defense, obtained some 4,000 documents about Mullis and his treatments as a youth sex offender at a rehabilitation facility. Other documents were about Mullis’ sexual misconduct and his life after his mother’s half-brother adopted him.
Mother Was Morbidly Obese
Vitale opened by showing jurors the first known photographs of Mullis as an infant being held by his mother with his sister at their side.
Vitale told the jury Mullis’ birth mother, Sheila Wallace, was morbidly obese, smoked four to five packs of cigarettes and drank 15 to 20 cups of coffee daily.
A month before Mullis was born at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C., Wallace sought treatment for her poor health. She had 11 medical issues at discharge, including morbid obesity, high blood pressure and a sexually transmitted disease.
Upon birth, Mullis was hospitalized for 71 days, suffering from necrotizing enterocolitis, a gastrointestinal disease causing destruction of the intestine. The condition is most common with premature births or sick infants.
Jurors saw Mullis’ biological father, Bobby Ray Wallace, holding the infant’s stomach-feeding tube at the hospital, but he provided little support, testimony revealed.
Sheila Wallace visited Mullis 10 times during his hospital stay. She died of congestive heart failure at the age of 37 when Mullis was 10 months old.
Mullis was adopted in 1987 by his mother’s half-brother, Gary L. Mullis, who lived in Maryland with his wife.
Sexual Abuse Begins
Mullis was molested by his adoptive father, possibly as early as 3 years old, Vitale said, but Gary Mullis only admitted a cycle of abuse seven times in seven months.
"He admitted bathing with his son, coming into his bed," Vitale said, noting the abuse stopped in April 1993, when Travis Mullis was 6.
Travis Mullis received therapy, but at the age of 13, he molested an 8-year-old girl, who was a cousin by way of his adoption, testimony revealed. The girl, now 19, testified for the state.
The sexual offense sent Mullis to The Jefferson School, a program of the Sheppard Pratt Health System in Maryland for rehabilitation.
Gerald Bourque, one of Mullis’ defense attorneys, spent almost the entire day asking Vitale about Mullis’ advances and declines in treatment for a number of mental disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity and post-traumatic stress.
Mullis frequently banged his head against walls and threatened homicide and suicide from stressors, which included sex with his peers in rehabilitation and when staff members he’d become familiar with switched jobs.
In reading from Jefferson School records, Vitale described how Mullis loved his adoptive father but held a deep hatred for him as well. Mullis blamed himself for his father’s incarceration.
‘I Will Always Hate Him’
"‘I’d like to kill him if I could,’" Vitale said of Mullis’ statement at age 12. "I will always hate him."
In seventh grade, Mullis punched the wall and threatened to kill himself during a family meeting. He was discharged but returned in two weeks.
There were reports of Mullis drinking alcoholic beverages and that he’d stopped taking his medications.
"He talked of setting fire to a gasoline drum and expressed a desire to strangle his grandmother," Vitale said.
Mullis also reported hearing voices in his head and had flashbacks of his father’s abuse.
One psychiatrist recommended Mullis needed a test to determine whether he had organic brain impairment.
Special prosecutor Lyn McClellan pointed out there was no evidence Mullis had such impairment.
Mullis once intentionally sabotaged his discharge from Jefferson School but was ultimately shown the door Sept. 15, 2003, the same day his insurance declined to pay for further treatment, testimony revealed.
Vitale is expected to return to the stand today for more questioning. The defense has as many as 10 witnesses that could testify in the punishment hearing, including Mullis’ half-sister.
Defense expert witnesses could include psychologists, a prisons expert, a neonatologist, a forensic DNA expert and a psychiatrist.
Prosecutors asked the jury of seven women and five men to find that Mullis poses a future danger and that there wasn’t sufficient mitigating evidence to rule out the death penalty.
This story was brought to you thanks to khou.com’s partnership with The Galveston County Daily News.