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Murder charge dropped against sex offender in death of 4-year-old

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James Columbus Morrison Jr.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Prosecutors reportedly dropped a first-degree murder charge against a convicted sex offender accused of killing a Winston-Salem boy in 2009.

The Winston-Salem Journal reports the charge was dropped after James Columbus Morrison Jr., 39, pleaded guilty this week in Forsyth Superior Court to felony child abuse resulting in serious physical injury.

Prosecutors could not prove Morrison’s actions led to the death of 4-year-old Emerson Isiah Cardona, who died from blunt force trauma to the head in the early-morning hours of Oct. 18, 2009, the Journal reports.

Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster told the Journal that Morrison admitted to beating Cardona with a coat hanger on the morning before the boy died, but the injuries would not have led to his death.

Foster said Cardona complained that he had hit his head before he started losing consciousness in the afternoon before he died.

Although Morrison previously confessed to killing Cardona, medical experts ruled that beating the child with a coat hanger would not have caused his death, the paper reports.

Cardona was not Morrison’s biological child. The boy’s mother at the time had given custody to Morrison’s fiance, Debralee Matthews. The paper reports there was no legal transaction in the transfer of custody.

Morrison served a 4 1/2-year sentence after he was convicted of second-degree sex offense in December, 1999.

No sexual abuse involving Cardona was alleged, according to the paper.

Judge Gary Gavenus sentenced Morrison to between 34 months and 50 months in prison for the child abuse charge.