SAN DIEGO -- A 2-year-old boy who was reported missing by his stepfather in San Diego in 2002 suffered a fatal injury and died while in the sole custody and care of the stepfather, who disposed of the body, a prosecutor said Friday, but a defense attorney said her client loved the child and didn't kill him.
Tieray Jones, 39, told police that Jahi Turner disappeared from a park near the southern end of Balboa Park the afternoon of April 25, 2002.
Deputy District Attorney Bill Mitchell told a jury that Jones married Jahi's mother -- Tameka Jones -- after Jahi was born and the couple moved to San Diego from Maryland in February 2002.
The defendant was left to care for Jahi when Tameka Jones -- who was in the Navy -- went out to sea on April 22, 2002, the prosecutor said.
Three days later, the defendant called 911 and said his stepson disappeared in the park when the defendant walked to a vending machine.
"We will piece together what happened that week,'' Mitchell told the jury. "You're gonna know what happened to Jahi based on the evidence.''
Two days before he reported the child missing, Jones told his wife that Jahi had fallen off the bed and bumped his head, but it was "no big deal,'' the prosecutor said. Jones also complained that Jahi had wet the bed, according to Mitchell.
Witnesses at the apartment complex where Jones lived said they saw the defendant carrying three large trash bags to a Dumpster just before the trash was to be picked up the day before the child disappeared, the prosecutor told the jury.
One neighbor commented, "It didn't look like regular trash,'' Mitchell said.
The prosecutor pointed to "glaring inconsistencies'' in the defendant's statements to police about what happened. Mitchell said there was "no credible evidence'' that Jahi was at the park that day. Despite a massive search, the child's body was never found.
Jones was arrested in April 2016 in North Carolina and brought back to San Diego to face a murder charge.
Deputy Public Defender Courtney Cutter told the jury that her client was a suspect in his stepson's disappearance almost immediately.
Cutter said the defendant and Tameka Jones were used to just "getting by'' and had very little when they moved to San Diego.
The attorney said her client loved Jahi as if he were his own.
"Tieray did not kill this child,'' Cutter told the jury. "He was an imperfect father, yes, but not a reluctant one.''
At the end of the trial, there will be more questions than answers as to what happened to Jahi, Cutter said.
Jones faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.