By LAUREN KEENE/McNaughton Newspapers
A 26-year-old man was scheduled to make his first court appearance Wednesday on charges that he sexually assaulted and killed his young daughter, marking the county’s second child-homicide case in just over two months’ time.
Meanwhile, the family of Markeese Leavell Carter insists he’s been wrongfully accused, describing him as an overprotective father who would never harm either of his two daughters.
“He’s being portrayed as a monster,” said Willene Callen, Carter’s mother and grandmother of the victim, who was identified by the family as Aminatu-Amaya Abdul-Raafi, who would have turned 5 on Dec. 1.
“He’s with those kids every day. They’re the joy of his life,” Callen said.
Carter was arrested Sunday evening, Nov. 20, at the El Rio Villas housing complex just east of Winters, where Yolo County sheriff’s Sgt. Matt Davis said deputies were summoned at about 5 p.m. after receiving reports of a possible drowning in nearby Putah Creek.
They arrived to discover the young girl unresponsive, Davis said. First responders attempted lifesaving efforts, but the girl was pronounced dead after being transported to a local hospital.
Yolo County coroner’s officials had not yet ruled on a cause of death as of Tuesday afternoon, pending further investigation.
Carter was booked into the Yolo County Jail on suspicion of murder, sexual assault and child endangerment, as well as assault on a peace officer after allegedly attacking a detective as he was being detained, Davis said.
Davis would not say whether there were any witnesses to the alleged crime, including other children. Documents on file in Yolo Superior Court show that the girl has a younger sister who turned 3 several weeks ago.
Carter’s family says he lives in Sacramento with the two girls and was visiting his mother’s residence on Fredericks Drive for several days. A full-time father who home-schools the girls, Carter took them to a nearby park to read books and explore nature, Callen said.
“She’s an energetic child,” she said of Aminatu, who is believed to have wandered away from her father at some point. The family said Carter searched the area and found her in the creek.
William Roberson, Carter’s brother, said Carter returned to his mother’s unit screaming, “My baby! My daughter!”
“He was just so hysterical,” Roberson said of Carter, who according to the family fears water and can’t swim. “I followed him down there and I immediately started CPR.”
As to allegations that the girl had been sexually assaulted, “We don’t know where that even comes from,” Roberson said. “She knows how to speak her mind. If anything like that happened, she would tell someone.”
“Both of them are victims in this,” Callen said of her son and granddaughter. “We want to see justice prevail, whatever happens. We’re there for both of them.”
Carter, who is on a no-bail hold at the jail, declined an interview request from The Davis Enterprise.
Yolo County court records indicate that Carter has had one prior brush with the law here, an arrest in 2016 for several misdemeanor vehicle-code violations.
In Sonoma County, he was on felony probation for carrying a concealed firearm and resisting arrest, court records show. He attempted to have his probation transferred to Yolo County about a year ago, but that bid was rejected when local probation officials could not verify his address.
According to a letter to the court, Carter gave authorities a Fredericks Drive address in the El Rio Villas complex, but no one was at home when a probation officer knocked on the door. A manager told the Probation Department that two women and three children lived at the unit, and Carter was not on the lease.
Lisa Baker, chief executive officer of the Yolo County Housing Authority, which owns and manages the property where the homicide occurred, declined to comment in light of the ongoing investigation, but said her agency is fully cooperating with the probe.
“Our hearts go out to the family for their tragic loss. It’s a horrible thing,” Baker said.
Detectives are continuing to investigate the case and urge anyone with additional information to call Detective Sgt. Kurt Zeiler at 530-668-5280.
Carter is the second Yolo County father to be arrested in recent months on suspicion of killing his own child. In September, Robert William Hodges allegedly strangled his three children, ages 11, 9 and 7 months, and attempted to kill his wife in the family’s West Sacramento apartment.
Hodges, who faces three counts of first-degree murder and special-circumstance allegations that qualify him for the death penalty, appeared briefly in court Tuesday and is due back Dec. 5.
Sunday’s alleged homicide occurred nearly four years to the day after the Winters area’s last murder — the fatal shooting of Leslie Pinkston, 32, by her abusive ex-boyfriend as she sat inside her vehicle outside her Railroad Avenue workplace on Nov. 18, 2013.
Her killer, William Carl Gardner III, was arrested in Las Vegas following a three-week manhunt. A jury convicted him of murder with the special circumstances of lying in wait and murdering a witness, as Pinkston was slated to testify against him in a domestic-violence case. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
— Reach Lauren Keene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene