Resting Places / Chapter Twelve: A father’s testimony
Sherry Morton and her son Cedric are featured in a photograph on a program for the graveside service held for family and friends at Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence on Jan. 11. It was the 20th anniversary of their murder.
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COURTESY OF YOKO KATO
Sherry Morton and Cedric Seabrooks in 1992, months before they were murdered in Northampton on Jan. 11, 1993. Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON - Three weeks after the deaths, Sean Seabrooks had arrived at Hampshire Superior Court in shackles to enter a plea of innocent to two counts of murder. When the prosecutor described the number of wounds Sherry Morton and her son Cedric suffered, he began to cry. A judge ordered an examination into whether he was competent to stand trial. In jail, Sean remained on a suicide watch.
In a courtroom on April 14, 1994, for the first time in public since the killings, he spoke about what happened inside Sherry’s apartment.
He testified for more than two hours. He said he remembered only pieces of the night, but recalled going to his job as a shipping clerk at Merriam-Webster Co. After work, he met up with friends. In the course of an hour and a half, Sean told the court, he drank 12 beers, had six or seven shots of gin and smoked marijuana. Then, he said, he got in his Cadillac and headed to Northampton, where Sherry was expecting him for a visit with Cedric. Along the way, he stopped in Holyoke to buy a bag of marijuana and smoked some of it before arriving at Sherry’s at 7 p.m. He picked up Cedric, and Sherry asked him how he was doing.
After playing awhile with Cedric, he testified, Sherry gave him something to eat. The trouble started when a phone call came in. Though Sean didn’t say so, the call was from a friend of Sherry’s from work. Sherry asked Sean to leave. She told him she would call the police if he didn’t go. Sean said he grabbed the phone from her and tore it from the wall.
He reached into the open dishwasher and picked up a knife with a wooden handle. He turned to face Sherry. As he spun, the knife’s edge cut Cedric on the chin.
Cedric Devaughn Seabrooks came into the world in late June 1991, after 36 hours of labor. His father chose his first name, his mother the second. Cedric smiled for the first time when he was five days old. His umbilical cord fell off when he was 10 days old. He lifted his head and laughed for the first time in late July and was shown off at a Seabrooks family reunion in August.
Cedric found his thumb on Aug. 13, just shy of two months. His mother picked up a wirebound book called “Baby’s First Year” and on a page labeled Your Parents’ Thoughts, she wrote that despite the long labor, Cedric was the best thing that had happened in her life. May you always walk in sunshine, she wrote. Then she drew a happy face.
Cedric started to reach for things in September. The next month he could sit with a little support and hold on to a bottle. He squirmed through his first haircut in November. His mother noted that he was learning something new every day. She remarked on his desire to speak, despite not having formed words, especially when people around him were talking.
Two days before Christmas, Cedric drank from a little cup. One the first day of January, he got sick for the first time, with flu, bronchitis and an ear infection. He was better in time to celebrate his father’s birthday, and then for his grandmother Yoko’s.
In February, when his mother moved away from his father, he started to take steps, with help. You’re such a little ham now, Cedric, his mother wrote in the baby book. In a journal she was keeping, Sherry thanked God for giving her such a loving little boy, addressing her thoughts to “my son Cedric Devaughn,” leaving out his father’s name. “As you lay before me sleeping I think of what a wonderful little person you are. You are my life, I am so glad so glad you blessed my life with your beautiful being. You are the most important person in my life today and forever.” In March, Sherry peeled off the sticker labeled “Say Dada” and put it on a calendar in Cedric’s baby book. A week earlier, Northampton police had arrested Sean in Sherry and Cedric’s new apartment for threatening to hit Sherry with a lamp. Cedric had not yet said Mama.
He took his first solo steps in April right after Easter. He started to attend day care in May and made his first friend the next day, a girl named Naomi. On May 25, he sat with all the older children at day care for a snack. Sherry found a sticker for that milestone in her son’s life and put that in the book as well.
CLIENT NAME: Yoko Kato
DURATION: 1 hr.
CLIENT PROGRESS & ISSUES: Session focused primarily on Y’s anger toward her daughter’s murderer — hopes he can feel the enormity of his acts; takes comfort from graphic descriptions of Hell. Y is feeling stronger now — believes she is mastering her fear of Sean, and that she will be able to face him in court when the trial arrives, which she views as supporting Sherry & Cedric.
CLIENT NAME: Yoko Kato
DURATION: 90 min.
CLIENT PROGRESS & ISSUES: Attended status hearing on case w. client, and was invited into update session w. DA, Victim Witness personnel and family friend Jim C. Notable in this supportive session was the re-traumatizing / triggering effects of even a terse, legal summary of facts upon Yoko — will certainly need add’l support during & immed. after the trial — and the conflict between survivors needs for psychological closure & justice, and the judicial setting.
Attempted to support & validate Y’s responses. I hope my presence was a sign of the appropriateness of processing reactions to the legal setting.
Sean told the court that he hit Sherry and reached around for the knife. Sherry, holding Cedric in her arms, had moved into the living room just a few feet away. They were sitting on the couch. Cutting Cedric on the face with one of the knives was entirely an accident, he said.
Sean told the court: “She was cussing me out. She pushed me. I proceeded to stab her. Four or five times.” Then his account grew sketchy. He said Sherry ran to the bedroom with Cedric and he followed.
After Sean cut Cedric’s chin, Sherry screamed they must take him to the hospital, he told authorities. The only working phone was the one in the bedroom she shared with Cedric. Before Sherry could run toward that room, Sean stabbed her high in the chest. He looked at where the blade had gone in. You won’t be pledging allegiance to the flag anymore, he told her.
Later, the coroner had placed Sherry on a table in the Springfield hospital where she gave birth to Cedric. His body lay nearby. The coroner counted 53 wounds on Sherry’s body. He examined wounds all over her body. One revealed that the blade cut through her raised right palm. The stabbing had been carried out with considerable force, especially the final blow, in which Sean brought the knife down on Sherry’s face, below her right eye, and sank the blade in five inches, up to its handle. It took Sherry eight to 10 minutes to die on the floor of her apartment, holding her son.
Cedric was stabbed five times in the chest. The cut on Cedric’s chin was deep enough to be called a stab wound. The knife had opened the top of his blue one-piece outfit. One stab cut through his ribs into his aorta, loosening a torrent of blood. It cut his esophagus and nicked his spine. Another blow drove through his breastbone, sliced through the right side of his heart, pierced his diaphragm and cut into his liver. Another opened a hole in his ribs and breached a major vein. Another punctured his right lung. He was stabbed three times under his right arm, leaving wounds three-quarters of an inch deep, and twice on his back. The wounds low on his right arm, just above the wrist, came when Cedric raised his arms to defend himself.
The coroner had told all this to the jury and was there in court the day its members received color, 5-by-7 autopsy photographs of Sherry. The prosecutor sat and the room fell silent. Jurors passed the pictures to one another. One had to be excused from the courtroom after looking at them. The day before, jurors had seen a videotape of what police found in Sherry’s apartment.
The coroner, who had handled 2,500 autopsies, rose again and took up a pointer. He gestured to diagrams of stab wounds, marked in on charts of the human body. A bailiff had swung a bulletin board out, then moved it after juror number 10 had trouble seeing. The coroner described how multiple stab wounds bring death from extensive loss of blood. He talked about the aorta and heart, and about the breastbone that is supposed to protect them. He defined the term defense wounds, the constellation of cuts someone gets when trying to ward off an attacker with a knife.
He said Sherry had been stabbed through her left palm, raised in protest. He said he could recall no time when he’d seen more of the kinds of wounds suffered trying to repel an attack.
Sean sat in a grey suit with his elbows on the defense table and his face in his hands.
During closing arguments, the knife remained on display as evidence. Yoko recognized it as one she had given Sherry.
TOMORROW: Waiting for a verdict.