Capital murder trial starts for man accused in death of boy whose body was found in apartment

Brian Coulter, charged with capital murder, began trial on Tuesday for allegedly beating his girlfriend's son to death.

Courtney Fischer Image
Wednesday, April 10, 2024
Capital murder trial starts for man accused of beating boy to death
The trial started Tuesday for Brian Coulter, the man accused of beating 8-year-old Kendrick Lee, then leaving his body to decompose in an apartment.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The trial started Tuesday for the man accused in the 2020 murder of 8-year-old Kendrick Lee.

Prosecutors say Brian Coulter beat Kendrick to death and left the little boy's body to decompose for a year in the family's southwest Harris County apartment. Coulter was identified as the live-in boyfriend of the children's mother, Gloria Williams.

Investigators say Kendrick's brothers, ages 15, 10, and 7, were living with the skeletal remains for nearly a year. The then-15-year-old called 911 to report what happened on Oct. 24, 2021.

"(The then-15 year-old) will tell you that Brian Coulter had a history of locking Kendrick Lee in a room, limiting his access to food, and that there was a history of abuse - of this man hitting, kicking, punching Kendrick Lee," prosecutor Celeste Byrom said during her opening statement lasting less than 10 minutes. Byrom added that all three brothers, who have not publicly shared their story, will testify during trial.

Coulter pleaded not guilty to capital murder. He wore a yellow jumpsuit, his long hair parted down the middle, saying nothing else in court today. The 34-year-old opted for a bench trial, which means 178th Criminal District Court Judge Kelli Johnson will decide whether Coulter is guilty, not a jury of his peers.

Investigators with the Harris County Sheriff's Office described the scene they found inside the apartment as horrific, with one testifying it was one of the worst scenes he's ever worked. Prosecutors played body camera footage showing the deputies shocked as they pulled back a blue blanket, discovering Kendrick's skeleton on a bedroom floor.

More crime scene photos taken that day showed the 10-year-old brother with a swollen jaw. Investigators said the boy was beaten so severely he needed surgery. The surviving children also said they weren't allowed to leave the apartment unit.

The boys lived in the apartment without electricity and beds to sleep on, with roaches everywhere and, as one investigator recalled, a distinct smell.

Authorities say Kendrick was killed around the third week of November 2020.

On Nov. 23, 2020, Coulter was arrested in Luling, Texas, for unlawful possession of a weapon. Investigators believe he had killed Kendrick days before that arrest.

Months later, in March 2021, court records show Coulter and Williams moved out of the apartments on Green Crest Drive and abandoned the children.

The couple lived in a separate apartment 25 minutes away. According to the boys, Williams and Coulter would go back every few weeks to drop off some food, but Coulter would also beat them during those trips.

By around September or October of that year, the electricity was cut off to the apartment.

On Oct. 26, 2021, two days after deputies found Kendrick Lee's remains, Coulter and Williams were arrested outside the Robinson-Westchase Library on Wilcrest, where they were captured on surveillance video.

Sources said they were at the library searching for news articles about the case.

By this time, Williams' sons were in CPS custody.

Williams is charged with injury to a child by omission and tampering with her son's corpse, though she isn't charged with murder. Prosecutors say they have text messages and a recorded phone call from November 2020 between Williams and Coulter that will be evidence in Coulter's trial. In that call, Gloria appears to have found her son's skeletal remains and confronts Williams, prosecutors say.

"In that phone call, he doesn't deny anything," Byrom said in her opening statement. "Rather, instead, (Coulter) says (Williams) needs to calm down, and he'll take care of everything when he gets back to the apartment."

"I understand the case is horrible. It's one of the most horrible cases I've ever had," James Stafford, Coulter's attorney, said during his opening statement. "But, the bottom line is: can the state prove that he did it, and can they prove if the injuries actually caused death?"

The medical examiner ruled Kendrick died from "homicidal violence."

Testimony resumes Wednesday. The trial is expected to last a week.

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