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Mother, boyfriend behind bars for investigation of child abuse death

Published: Thursday, Oct. 3 2013 11:05 a.m. MDT

Joshua Jay Harding, 30, of Pleasant Grove, has been arrested for investigation of child abuse homicide in the Nov. 27, 2012, death of his girlfriend's 3-month-old son, Paxton Stokes.

Utah County Jail

PROVO — Police have arrested the mother of a 3-month-old baby and her boyfriend for investigation of alleged child abuse that killed the infant last November.

Provo detectives arrested Brianna Brown, 32, on Thursday and Joshua Jay Harding, 30, on Wednesday for investigation of child abuse homicide and booked them into the Utah County Jail.

On Nov. 27, 2012, officers responded to 1074 W. 860 North to investigate a baby who was not breathing. The baby boy, Paxton Stokes, was taken to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

"After a very thorough investigation, which included an autopsy," investigators determined that the baby died from a closed-head injury and arrested Harding, Provo Police Lt. Mathew Siufanua said Thursday.

A medical examiner determined that Paxton had suffered "non-accidental injuries consistent with child abuse," an arrest warrant filed in July states. In addition to head and brain injuries, the child also had a bruise on his forehead, bruises and abrasions on his lower face and neck, red spots in his eye, bruises on his leg and hip and abnormalities "suggestive of resolving fractures," the warrant states.

The injuries to Paxton's head were caused by "an extreme amount of force" from being hit or objects hitting him, according a probable cause statement filed at the time of Brown's arrest.

Brown and Harding were the only adults who were with Paxton during the time frame that he sustained the injuries that killed him, a jail report states.

Brown told police she never hurt her baby and didn't see or hear anyone else abuse him, "despite the numerous bruises and other obvious indications that the child was being abused," the report states.

Brown said the bruising and abrasions to Paxton's neck occurred when he was being cleaned under the chin with a washcloth, but the injuries were inconsistent with a cleaning, police said. Investigators believe Brown either injured the baby or allowed someone else to.

Harding was charged in July with child abuse homicide, a first-degree felony, but prosecutors asked a judge to drop that charge the next day. According to Siufanua, they decided they did not have enough information to proceed.

Harding told officers he had been in bed with the baby that morning. He said the baby started crying when he changed his diaper and after he laid him down in the bassinet but said he eventually stopped crying, the warrant states. After the boy's mother returned home, Harding asked the mother to get him and she discovered that the baby was unresponsive.

In another police interview, Harding denied shaking Paxton but said the baby "was crying and very angry" and had soiled his blanket and clothing, detectives wrote.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com; mromero@deseretnews.com

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