Perhaps 20 minutes after she was seen running home with her older brother on an isolated, dead-end street on the South Side where the neighbors all knew each other, 9-year-old Mya Lyons was dead.
She was beaten so badly her skull was fractured and stabbed so violently her organs protruded through a gaping hole in her abdomen.
People were still out on the Auburn-Gresham street the night of July 18, 2008 — a man was walking his dog and a couple were parked outside the home where Mya was staying — but no one saw or heard how the girl who loved pink and had just finished the third grade in west suburban Addison was killed.
On Tuesday, a Cook County prosecutor told jurors — some of whom looked up at the ceiling during a discussion of the child's gruesome injuries — that Richard Lyons, now 45, snapped and beat his daughter to death or nearly to death and then, to throw off police, repeatedly stabbed her and dumped her body in an overgrown vacant lot down the street.
“He made it look like some crazy maniac had done this,” Assistant State's Attorney Fabio Valentini said as Lyons' murder trial opened at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.
“The investigation was a little bit derailed,” Valentini said. “Police looked everywhere for this bogeyman that could've abducted Mya Lyons.”
The prosecutors' case leans heavily on expert witnesses who will testify that blood found in the van, including inside the front air-conditioning vents, could only have gotten there if Mya was stabbed there.
Lyons' lawyer, Andrea Webber, told jurors that prosecutors wanted to solve the murder “at any cost” and that authorities lacked a motive, witnesses and forensic evidence to tie Lyons to the killing.
Webber said top Chicago police detectives and forensic experts had hit a roadblock after 16 months investigating the killing and “the state's attorney was frustrated.” She suggested the case shifted after the authorities hired an expert for $40,000 and that “suddenly he was able to tell how this crime occurred.”
“They paid him and they got the opinion that they wanted,” she said.
But Valentini told jurors that Chicago police soon realized the forensic evidence didn't match the crime scene or Lyons' account of that night.
The state-hired expert then found blood inside the front vents of the family's conversion van, which had otherwise no visible blood after the slaying. A neighbor's boyfriend testified he saw Lyons go inside his home and change his shirt while searching for Mya.
Police photographed the van but did not seize it until later. They also took only one photo of the bloodied clothes Lyons was wearing that night and later were unable to recover them.
A neighbor, Nakia Akins, 38, testified that Mya and her older brother had been over playing until the kids got a phone call on her landline and rushed home at about 11 p.m. At about 11:50 p.m., the brother knocked on her door and said Mya was missing, she said.
“Then the show started,” Valentini said in his opening statement.
Akins testified she saw Lyons searching for Mya in his black Chevy conversion van and heard tires screech and a “blood-curdling scream.”
Valentini alleged that Lyons pretended to discover his daughter in the vacant lot in the 8400 block of South Gilbert Court, began screaming and picked her up with one arm like “a piece of furniture” and placed her in the van where he had stabbed her.
Ericka Barnes, Mya's mother, cried on the witness stand while identifying a picture of her only daughter and testified that Mya never sneaked out of the house at night.
“She was scared of the dark,” she said as she wiped her nose with a tissue.
Lyons fought back tears when a nursing supervisor at Jackson Park Hospital took the stand and recounted what she heard Lyons say to his mother as they viewed his daughter's body.
“Oh, she's so pretty, she's so pretty. Mama, isn't she pretty?” Irenda Johnson-George recalled hearing Lyons say.