Family friends tell of concern before adopted Wilson girl died

Date: 2011-12-01

By Matt Anderson

Weeks before Kairissa Mark died, two family friends suspected the mother was abusing the 4-year-old girl and they planned to intervene, but they never did.

Now, Deborah Wen-Yee Mark, 40, is on trial in Wilson County, charged with first-degree murder, four counts of aggravated child abuse and four counts of child abuse.

Deborah Wen-Yee Mark and her husband, Steven, adopted Kairissa from China in March 2010. But the family had trouble communicating with the girl, who already was malnourished and underdeveloped when the Marks adopted her. She had a weak leg and was prone to falling.

At some point, the father sought help from the adoption agency and just days before the girl died a post-adoption counselor contacted the family to schedule an appointment with the family.

Rebecca Allen told jurors Wednesday that her daughter had frequent play dates with the Marks’ older daughter. She testified that she had seen bruises on Kairissa's arms and witnessed what she believed to be abusive behavior by Deborah Wen-Yee Mark against Kairissa.

When she saw news reports that a Mt. Juliet girl had been taken to a Nashville hospital with injuries, she feared the worst.

“My heart sank. I just knew it was Kairissa,’’ Allen testified.

“I was worried that Kairissa should not go home with the Marks, but before I could call someone I got the news that she had died.’’

Another mother, Christine Kowall, had met Deborah Wen-Yee Mark where their children attended karate in Mt. Juliet. She started documenting bruises she had seen, and by late June resolved to contact police after she returned from a July 4 vacation. Kairissa died July 2, 2010.

Dad was caregiver

Through cross-examination of witnesses, the defense has worked to cast suspicion toward the girl's father, Steven Mark.

A stay-at-home dad, Steven Mark was the girl's primary caregiver and has been charged with four counts of aggravated child abuse and four counts of child abuse. He was not in the courtroom Tuesday or Wednesday.

Lowery said that in his interview with detectives, Steven Mark admitted to punishing the girl by putting her in a box in the garage with the lights out and swinging her in the air to scare her.

Lowery said that in a June 30 phone call to the adoption agency, Steven Mark said: “Why did you send this demon child to me?’’

The Nashville director for Bethany Christian Services, which placed Kairissa with the Marks, said during testimony that a counselor emailed the Marks to set up a meeting but never got a response.

In the agency's first and only home visit, two weeks after the Marks brought Kairissa home, the family was bonding well, director Tammy Bass said.

Bass testified that Kairissa was a special needs child, having been listed as "mentally retarded" by the orphanage in China and having had two surgeries before adoption.

Prosecutors have said the child endured a pattern of abuse but died after receiving a fatal blow to the head.

The mother, who admitted to flinging the child, also told investigators the child fell down and hit her head.

Testimony continues today.

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