Mississippi Stepdad Who Killed Toddler for Taking Too Long to Get Juice Box Sentenced to Death

Joseph David Heard and Hayden Lee Bataille
Joseph David Heard and Hayden Lee Bataille X

A Mississippi jury has sentenced a Gulfport man to death for the December 2021 murder of his toddler stepson.

The jury took less than an hour to find Joseph David Heard, 41, guilty in the death of 2-year-old Hayden Lee Bataille, and another two hours to sentenced him to die, the Biloxi Sun Herald reported. "God have mercy on your soul," Judge Larry Bourgeois told the defendant after the sentence was pronounced.

Child's Mother Initially Told Dispatchers the Boy Drowned in the Bathtub

Heard and his wife, Hailey Leann Heard, 24, were arrested in January 2022 after the boy was found unresponsive on December 27, 2021, WLOX reported. Hailey Heard, the child's mother, called 911 at 6 a.m. and told dispatchers the boy may have drowned in the bathtub. He was taken to a hospital and later pronounced dead.

The pair were initially charged with felony child abuse, but when doctors revealed the child had multiple bruises all over his body and a broken bone consistent with abuse, the charges were upgraded to capital murder.

An investigator testified on Thursday that Hailey Heard told detectives that her husband held the boy by her arms in one hand while punching him repeatedly with the other. She admitted to covering the child's mouth to muffle his cries.

Joseph was Angry Because the Child Soiled His Diaper, Took too Long to Get Juice Box from Kitchen

Hailey Leann Heard
Hailey Leann Heard Twitter

When she testified herself on Friday, the boy's mother said that in the time leading up to the 911 call, the toddler had soiled his diaper and taken too long to get a juice box from the kitchen. The stepfather — who admitted during trial he had a temper — grabbed the boy up and beat him on the head and chest, she said.

"He was a two-year-old punished for soiling a diaper and crying," said Assistant District Attorney George Huffman. "He was beaten for being a child."

But testimony during the trial revealed that Heard's abuse of the boy was chronic. In the months leading up to killing him, Heard would make the boy sit on his potty-training seat for hours, popped open blisters on his hand with a spatula, and bragged about beating the boy in text messages to his mother.

"A child should be loved and supported by his parents," stated District Attorney W. Crosby Parker. "Two-year-old Hayden Bataille was beaten and killed for doing what two-year-olds do. The brutal and heinous killing of Hayden called for the maximum punishment under Mississippi law. We commend the Harrison County jury for agreeing with us."

Hailey Heard pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree murder and agreed to testify against her husband. She was sentenced to life in prison.