Shawntrell Dawkins
Shawntrell Dawkins, 33, center, was convicted of murder in her goddaughter's 2008 fatal beating. (Ruben R Ramirez / El Paso Times)

Jurors deliberated for two hours Wednesday before convicting a 33-year-old woman of murder in her goddaughter's fatal beating in 2008.

Today, jurors may begin deliberating how long Shawntrell Dawkins will spend in prison.

Dawkins was convicted of killing Milayna Harris on April 7, 2008. She now faces a prison sentence of five to 99 years.

Dawkins' husband, Nakia Dawkins, who at the time was an Army staff sergeant stationed at Fort Bliss, was convicted in 2010 of injury to a child, but jurors in his trial deadlocked on a sentence.

Shawntrell Dawkins, who has been jailed since her arrest, showed no emotion as state District Judge Sam Medrano Jr. read the jury's verdict.

REPORTER
Adriana M. Chávez

Shawntrell Dawkins will be given credit for time served while awaiting trial.

Nakia Dawkins is also jailed and awaiting sentencing.

After the verdict was read Wednesday, Milayna's mother, Sheree Harris, smiled briefly and hugged Assistant District Attorney Penny Hamilton.

A gag order on people involved in the case will remain until after Shawntrell Dawkins is sentenced.

The jury of seven men and five women heard closing arguments beginning soon after noon Wednesday.

During closing arguments, defense attorney Stuart Leeds argued the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Shawntrell Dawkins who struck the blow that killed Milayna.

An autopsy showed Milayna suffered 10 blows to her head and had numerous bruises throughout her body.

Defense attorneys also argued that it was Nakia Dawkins who began abusing Milayna after he returned home from a deployment in February 2008. Nakia and Shawntrell Dawkins had been caring for Milayna and her 4-year-old brother since late 2007 after their father, Army Sgt. Earl Harris III, was deployed to Iraq, and Sheree Harris, also an Army soldier, was deployed to Germany.

In her videotaped statement to police, Shawntrell Dawkins told homicide detectives Milayna fell down the stairs of the Dawkins' apartment at 7900 Viscount on the day she died.

After jurors viewed Milayna's autopsy photos Tuesday, one juror wept loudly as she exited the courtroom during a break, prompting Leeds to ask Medrano for a mistrial. Medrano denied the request.

"Don't be furious; just follow the law," Leeds told jurors during his closing argument. "You're not here to be a voice for Milayna. You are here to be jurors."

Defense attorney Victor Parra called the state's decision to show jurors the graphic autopsy photos a "desperate attempt" to inflame them.

Hamilton argued during her closing argument that jurors needed to see the photos to have the evidence needed to convict Shawntrell Dawkins of killing Milayna.

"You needed to understand what injuries that child suffered," Hamilton told jurors. "Murder is not pretty. Capital murder is not pretty. And dead children are the worst of all."

The sentencing phase of Shawntrell Dawkins' trial will begin at 8:30 a.m. today in the 409th District Court.

Adriana M. Chávez may be reached at achavez@elpasotimes.com; 546-6117. Follow her on Twitter @AChavezEPTimes