HOUSTON -- The 31-year-old Texas man accused of beating his girlfriend's 8-year-old son to death faced a judge Thursday morning.
Brian Coulter is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Kendrick Lee, whose corpse was found in a west Harris County apartment, along with Kendrick's three siblings.
A judge set Coulter's bond at $1 million on Wednesday, when the charges were read against him, but he did not appear in court, because he was being evaluated at a mental health unit.
On Thursday, he answered to a judge for the first time since his arrest in the boy's murder.
The judge who was supposed to see him recused himself from the case for personal reasons. It's unknown at this time what those reasons are, so another judge filled in.
But prosecutors told our sister station ABC13 at the courthouse that all the investigators are traumatized.
"The sheriff's office and I are working very closely together to make sure that justice is done in this case and that everyone's rights are protected and the children that are still surviving are protected as well. This is just a starting point," said Andrea Beall with the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
When Coulter arrived, he walked in slowly, asking the judge several questions. At times, it appeared that he didn't understand what was being read to him.
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Coulter also asked the judge to repeat what the charge was against him, and if he's convicted, if the sentencing is indeed five to 99 years or life.
The judge said yes, but also advised him to speak through his attorney because anything he says in court can be used against him.
The initial judge's recusal has implications in the case, at least for now.
Gloria Williams, the children's mother, is charged with injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence, a human corpse, and was expected to go before a judge on Friday. That appearance has now been pushed back.
Another judge already set Williams' bond at $900,000: $350,000 for injury to a child, $300,000 for tampering with evidence and $250,000 for injury by omission.
Coulter and Williams were arrested Tuesday evening at a public library where they were searching for news articles about themselves, ABC13 learned.
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According to investigators, William's 15-year-old son called 911 to report he and his two younger brothers, ages 9 and 7, had been living alone at an apartment at CityParc II at West Oaks on Green Crest with the body of Kendrick, who had been dead for a year. Deputies found the 8-year-old's skeletal remains in the apartment.
Earlier Tuesday, the medical examiner ruled Kendrick's manner of death as homicide, caused by multiple blunt force injuries. Investigators believe Coulter beat the boy to death and then he and Williams moved out, leaving the children to fend for themselves as their brother's body decomposed. The teen told deputies the mom had not been back in months.
In an update Wednesday, Sgt. Dennis Wolfford said it appears that Kendrick was beaten to death sometime between Nov. 20 and Nov. 29, 2020.
It was revealed at Williams' court appearance Wednesday that the two younger brothers gave a gruesome testimony of their abuse and the abuse of their deceased brother to deputies.
Both boys recalled Coulter kicking and punching Kendrick repeatedly until he stopped moving and had black eyes.
The boys said Coulter then covered his body with a blanket.
Williams reportedly told deputies she witnessed Coulter punching her now-deceased son in November of last year. She told deputies she tried to stop him.
The next day, she said she went back into the room where the beating took place and found Kendrick deceased under the blanket.
Williams reportedly confronted Coulter, who she said apologized and claimed he lost control and kept punching him "until he went to sleep."
According to the details revealed in court, Williams admitted she knew her son was dead in November 2020, but did not notify law enforcement because Coulter told her not to, she was afraid her kids would be taken by CPS, and she was afraid she would go to jail.
The apartment the boys were living in was in a deplorable condition, officials said. The unit reportedly had no furniture, no bedding, soiled carpet and cockroach and fly infestations.
While the boys were abandoned at the apartment, investigators said the couple lived in a different apartment about 25 minutes away in the Westchase District.
The couple would occasionally visit the boys, as is evident by a severe injury the 9-year-old had to his jaw, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.
Investigators believe Coulter beat the 9-year-old and caused the injury about three weeks ago. No medical attention was given at the time. The boy will soon undergo surgery, officials said.
Gonzalez said it appears Williams occasionally provided food by some delivery service, but it was never anything substantial, and was instead snacks like noodles, chips and soft drinks.
Meanwhile, Coulter has been ordered not to have contact with any minors, specifically the minor witnesses in the case, and no contact with the boys' mother.
Like Coulter, Williams is ordered to have no contact with her children, or any other minors, and no contact with Coulter.
Both could face more charges, Gonzalez said.
NOTE: The ages of the three boys, as provided by authorities, have changed as more details have been released about the case. At Wednesday's press conference, officials said the surviving brothers are 15, 9 and 7, and the deceased boy was 8 at the time of his death last year.