A Winston-Salem man will face the possibility of the death penalty in connection with the death of a 2-year-old boy who prosecutors say had injuries so severe that he wouldn’t have been able to have talked or walked again if had lived, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Charles Thomas Stacks, 31, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Jaxson Sonny Swaim, who died from head injuries on Aug. 19, 2015, at Brenner Children’s Hospital. A Rule 24 hearing was held in Forsyth Superior Court to determine if Forsyth County prosecutors can pursue the death penalty if Stacks is convicted.
Judge David Hall of Forsyth Superior Court granted the request.
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Martin said in court that Jaxson Swaim had bruises and abrasions on every part of his body and had severe head injuries. Doctors who treated Jaxson determined that he had suffered an “acute and catastrophic” injury, Martin said.
“If he had lived, he would never walk or talk again,” she said.
Martin said Jaxson had bite marks on his body that were later identified as human and his testicles were swollen. He also had abrasions on his genitals, Martin said. According to an autopsy report, Jaxson died as a result of bleeding between the surface of his brain and its outer covering, which was caused by a blunt force head injury.
Candace Swaim, Jaxson’s mother, was friends with Stacks and lived with Stacks and his wife, Megin, in the Stacks’ house in the 5400 block of Grubbs Street. Other people also lived in the house, including other children, Martin said.
Martin said Candace Swaim was dealing with substance abuse issues and struggling to find housing. That’s why she ended up moving in with the Stackses, Martin said. Candace Swaim was often not in the house, instead staying at a nearby motel. On Aug. 16, 2015, she left the house to stay at the motel, Martin said.
Megin Stacks also left the house for about an hour on Aug. 16, 2015, Martin said. Megin Stacks is facing a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice. She is accused of telling her four children — ages 12, 11, 7 and 7 — not to cooperate with police or Forsyth County Child Protective Services while the agencies were investigating allegations of abuse involving 2-year-old Jaxson. Megin Stacks’ next court date in Forsyth District Court is Sept. 19.
Martin said that on Aug. 16, 2015, Megin Stacks returned to the house and Jaxson vomited. He was placed in a tub of ice water. Jaxson was taken that day to Brenner. On Aug. 19, 2015, Jaxson was taken off life support and died.
Martin said prosecutors had found three aggravating factors for pursuing the death penalty — that the alleged murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel; that the murder was committed during the commission of a specified felony, felony child abuse; and that Charles Stacks had previously been convicted of a violent felony in Virginia in December 2008.
Nils Gerber, Stacks’ attorney, said he understands that these are just allegations that prosecutors have to prove in a court of law and that he knows the purpose of the hearing.
“Mr. Stacks didn’t commit this crime and didn’t inflict these injuries,” he said.
Gerber filed a motion to set bond. Stacks had been held at the Forsyth County Jail without bond since he was arrested in 2015. Gerber said that the discovery in the case is large and Stacks has already been in jail for two years. He said Stacks’ parents are willing to have Stacks live with them under whatever conditions the judge imposes.
Martin objected to setting bond. She said Stacks had no visible source of income but maintained a house and possessed drugs.
“We believe he is an inappropriate candidate for bond considering he is facing the death penalty,” she said.
Hall denied the motion for bond. Martin said a trial could be held as early as April 2018.