Justice’s Sake: Turning Tragedy to Hope

Impassioned by a desire to honor the memory of baby Justice Myers-Cannon, a family fights to support children and victims of child abuse.

By Mary Anne Ellifritz

When Justice Christopher Calvin Myers-Cannon was born on August 16, 2006, he was the first child of his mother, Ashley, and the first grandchild for Ashley’s parents, Dorothea “Dee” and Richard “Nink” Myers. Dee described him as having “beautiful blue eyes, a smile, and laugh that lit up a room and our lives.” Tragically, the Myers family would lose Justice to child abuse when the little boy was just four-and-a-half months old.

A Day Like Any Other

January 4, 2007, began like any other day. Four-and-a-half-month-old Justice Calvin Myers-Cannon spent the day at his Great-Grandmother’s home. She took care of him as she often did, while the baby’s mother, Ashley, was at work. Ashley and her then-boyfriend, Floyd Bingaman, picked up the little boy, who was already fed and ready for bed. Justice fell asleep on the drive home, so Ashley tucked him into bed. When she checked on him a short while later, the baby was wheezing, couldn’t be awakened, and had an alarming lump on his head. Bingaman, who had been in the room alone with Justice, told Ashley that her baby had woken up and vomited, but that he had had no problem putting him back to sleep.

Born on August 16, 2006, Justice was his mother Ashley’s first child, and the first grandchild for Ashley’s parents, Dorothea “Dee” and Richard “Nink” Myers. Dee described Justice as having “beautiful blue eyes, a smile and laugh that lit up the room—and our lives.”

The Myers called 911 and Justice was transported by medevac to John Hopkins Hospital, where he died from his injuries on January 6, 2007. Dr. Allen Walker would tell the police that the injuries sustained by the happy baby with beautiful blue eyes were some of the worse he had seen in the 30 years he had been practicing medicine. 

On January 7, the family donated Justice’s heart, liver, and kidneys to three different individuals. Also on that day, Floyd Edward Bingaman III was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death. 

A New Law for Justice

Bingaman was found guilty of manslaughter, first-degree child abuse resulting in death, and second-degree assault, and was sentenced to serve 30 years in prison. Even though he had received the maximum sentence allowed by the State of Maryland at that time, Nink Myers said, “It felt like a slap in the face.” 

“We were in so much pain and had so much anger, we did not know how to survive the loss of Justice,” Dee Myers remembers. Then one night Greg Alton, the lead detective in Justice’s case, made a suggestion. “He told us to take our grief and anger and do something with it. More specifically, he suggested that we try to change Maryland’s law to increase the maximum sentence for the conviction of child abuse resulting in death.” 

That same weekend the family attended a county delegation public meeting, where they shared their concerns about the current law with Maryland House of Delegates member Christopher Shank. That meeting would result in the drafting of “Justice’s Law,” which called for an increase in the maximum sentence from 30 years to up to life in prison.

The Myers family traveled to Annapolis every year for the next five years, providing testimony and pleading for sentencing changes that would better reflect both the horrendous nature of the crime and the helplessness of the victims who could not defend themselves. Shank, who was by then a Senator, urged them to increase the chances of getting the bill passed by adjusting the maximum sentence to 40 years. In 2012, the amended bill passed and was signed into law by then-Governor Martin O’Malley.

A Victory for Justice

While grateful for Justice’s Law, the Myers family was determined to continue to fight for a sentence that included the possibility of life in prison. In 2016, on the heels of several high-profile abuse cases in Washington County—including that of 9-year-old Jack Garcia who was handcuffed and beaten to death over a missing piece of birthday cake—Dee Myers again testified before the Judiciary Committee in Annapolis. 

“I told the Committee, there is no crime more heinous than that of killing a child, a child with no way of defending themself. Imagine the last moments of an innocent child, as an adult beats them to death, their fear, their pain—and they are 100% at the mercy of their killer and their killer shows no mercy. The deaths of children signify the loss of the future, of hopes and dreams, of new strength. We were not asking for a mandatory life sentence; we were asking for the judge to be able to use his discretion based on the facts of the case.”

On April 11, 2016, under the Criminal Justice Reform Bill, an expansion of Justice’s Law—making the crime of child abuse resulting in death punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment—was passed and signed by Governor Larry Hogan.

Rock Me, Don’t Shake Me

Even while celebrating their victory, the Myers family remained determined to find a way to help other children in the community, not just those who are victims of child abuse. They remembered how touched they were when, shortly after Justice’s death, local musicians had arranged a benefit to assist with Justice’s medical and funeral expenses. 

That act of kindness spurred the creation of “Rock Me Don’t Shake Me, Musicians Against Child Abuse,” an annual benefit featuring local bands that raises money while creating awareness of child abuse and Shaken Baby Syndrome. They created Justice’s S.A.K.E. (Supporting All Kids Endlessly), a non-profit organization providing donations to local organizations such as CASA, Safe Place, Meritus Healthcare Foundation, Bikers Against Child Abuse, and Micah’s Backpack, which provides direct food assistance to students facing food insecurity. As Nink Myers said, “We can’t bring Justice back, but we can make sure his life wasn’t in vain.”

For more information on Justice’s S.A.K.E visit justicessake.com.

 

Author’s Note:

According to childhelp.org, more than 4.3 million children each year are referred to child protection agencies because of child abuse and neglect. The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations: five children in the US die every day from child abuse. More than 70% of these children are three years of age or younger.

It is estimated that up to 3,000 children in the US suffer from Shaken Baby Syndrome each year. One-fourth of these victims die, and 80% of survivors suffer from permanent damage.

 

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