Documents Lay Out Case Against Mother in 2002 Murder Investigation

Late last year, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested 37-year-old Mary Jean Liza for the death of her child in 2002. 

 

The State Attorney’s Office announced after the New Year that they would be pressing first-degree, non-premeditated murder charges against Liza in the case. 

 

Liza, currently a resident of Beale Air Force Base, according to arrest documents, was an 18-year-old resident of Niceville when the alleged murder took place. 

 

Mid Bay News has obtained the probable cause affidavit from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, which outlines the circumstances surrounding the child’s death 20 years ago.

Mary Jean Liza is accused of killing her child in 2002.
Mary Jean Liza is accused of killing her child in 2002. The 20-year old case looks to go in front of the courts this year.

The Charge

In the warrant affidavit supplied by the Sheriff’s Office, the deputy minces no words. “On 30 December, 2002, between 1500 hours and 1630 hours, Mary Liza Mansker (Defendant) committed FELONY MURDER while engaged in the commission of Aggravated Child Abuse, ultimately causing the death of [REDACTED],” the affidavit claims. 

Judge Angela Mason will be in charged of hearing the case in the circuit courts. Mason was appointed to the position in 2018 by former Governor Rick Scott. Before her appointment, she was an assistant state attorney in the fourth judicial circuit and first judicial circuit. 

PDF Title

This is What Law Enforcement Believes Happened

Before the Child's Death

According to the arrest affidavit, which has many redactions, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) was already involved in the child’s life before the murder. Due to the redactions, the nature of that involvement is not clear. 

 

A week before the alleged murder, on December 23, 2002, a DCF caseworker visited Liza and her child at home as a part of a regular check-up with the family. The caseworker noted that the child was “active, healthy, and without any apparent injuries. 

 

Six days later, Liza’s sister saw the victim and reported that the child was “unharmed.”

 

On December 30th, the date of the alleged murder, someone (the person’s name is redacted) left the child in the care of Liza. At that time, the person who left the child with Liza felt that the victim “appeared fine”. 

 

Later, when a second person picked up Liza and the child, that person felt that the child seemed “lethargic” and “didn’t respond to him.” That person question Liza, who said that the child had fallen ill over the last two days and she hadn’t seen a medical professional for the illness. The trio went back to the second unnamed person’s home. 

Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) Logo.

The Death of the Victim

The affidavit then says that at some point after they entered the home, the child began to have a seizure and stopped breathing. According to the affidavit, the two adults “rushed the victim to Twin Cities Hospital.” The second unnamed person in the documentation told sheriff’s deputies, Liza said, “Oh, I hope they don’t call the HRS.” [HRS was the name of the state government department which preceded the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).]

Around 10 in the evening, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Deputy Harold Mason arrived at Twin Cities Hospital to respond to a child abuse claim. During Mason’s initial investigation with local pediatrician Dr. Lynn Keefe, significant evidence of child abuse was found on the child’s body. Dr. Keefe diagnosed the child with Battered Child Syndrome due to her injuries. Those injuries included a total of 18 recently-inflicted bruises, cerebral atrophy and brain surface blood clotting. Dr. Keefe also noted that these injuries had been inflicted recently. 

The child was transferred to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola in an attempt to save her life. On December 31, 2002 – the child died “due to her injuries.”

A Photo of Dr. Lynn Keefe
Dr. Lynn Keefe, a leading local pediatrician, served for more than 20 years on a task force that responded to child abuse in Okaloosa County.

The Autopsy and Investigation

The Medical Examiner's Role in the Case

On January 2nd, 2003, the medical examiner performed an autopsy of the child. The death was ruled a homicide. The medical examiner ruled the cause of the child’s death to be the result of blunt force trauma to the head. 

 

Almost 20 years later, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office received an amended autopsy report that confirmed the cause of the death to be Shaken Baby Syndrome. That is when the investigation – which had apparently halted for twenty years, began anew. 

‘Blacking Out’: The 2003 Interview with the Defendant

11 months after the child’s death, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Deputies interviewed Liza about the injuries inflicted on the child before her death. Liza initially denied shaking the child but told investigators that sometimes she would get so angry that she “blacked out and did not recall the incident.” Liza then told the deputies investigating the incident that “it was possible she could have done something to [the child] and not realized it because she was “blacked out”.” She added that she could have done something to the child and not realized it. 

Interviewing Relatives

Deputies interview the defendant’s relatives to try and figure out what happened to the child. Liza’s sister, brother, and step-father told investigators that “the defendant had a terrible temper [but] did not have a history of any reported ‘blackouts’”.

The Current Situation

Currently, Liza is out on $10,000 bond from the Okaloosa County Jail in relation to the case. She was booked into county jail on the 6th of December, 2022 and released 17 days later on bond. Liza’s pretrial hearing is not scheduled to take place until February of 2023. 

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