Friday, February 18, 2011

Eye, the Jury Pt. 4 - The Case

These are the facts in the case, which are not disputed by either side:

In April of 2009, the defendant was babysitting 2 of her good friend’s children, an 18-day old infant and an 18-month old toddler.   The defendant had a 3-year old boy of her own, so she was watching all three children.  Her 19-year old daughter also lived there, along with the elderly owner of the house.  (He was unrelated to the defendant and her family and was letting them live there with him.)

The defendant’s daughter was out of the house for a night or two prior to the incident, with her boyfriend.  The homeowner was also out of the house on the day in question.

On that day, the defendant was having trouble with her wisdom teeth.  As she couldn’t afford to have them pulled, she was taking OTC pain medication.  She put the baby to sleep in the middle of her double bed.  She made dinner for the toddler and her son and had them sit at the table to eat.  She was out of her pain medication so she called her daughter to see if she had anything.  The daughter said she could have her last Oxycodone pill.  The defendant took the pill and went to the couch in the living room to sit down.  At some point fell asleep.

Around 9:30 PM, the daughter came in the door.  When her mother didn’t respond to her, she saw she was sleeping.  (Later, the defendant said she heard her daughter come in, but didn’t respond.)  The daughter went up to her room, where she found the baby on the floor, unresponsive.  The baby was limp when she picked her up and there was blood on her mouth and bib, and she had a knot on her head.

The other two kids were in the room, but unusually quiet and still.  Normally they were quite boisterous when she’d come in.

She ran downstairs with the baby, screaming and asking her mother what happened.  The daughter called 9-1-1 and asked for the police to come.  Five minutes later, the mother called 9-1-1 again.  Shortly after, the police and paramedics arrived.

The paramedic noticed a large lump on the baby’s head.  The baby’s vitals were not normal… slow heartbeat, breathing shallow.  They rushed the baby to a (prestigious nearby) hospital. 

Later X-rays, CT scans and MRIs showed severe injuries.  There were 7 separate skull fractures on opposite sides of the head plus the back, and a sub-dural hematoma, (bleeding between the brain and its outer casing.)  There was also evidence of retinal bleeding, which typically comes from violent shaking, as opposed to blunt-force trauma.  Further, there was evidence of brain swelling damage to the brain tissue itself.

The defendant was charged with 2nd degree assault, 1st degree assault, 2nd degree child abuse and 1st degree child abuse.  (And I really wish they let me keep my notes because I had more details on the difference between all of these, but the main difference between 1st and 2nd degrees is intent to harm or injure.)

The Prosecution’s Case 
The supervising physician (and medical expert in the field) testified that these injuries were so severe that no child under 5 could have inflicted them.  He likened the damage to what would happen if the baby were to have been ejected from a high-speed car crash, or fell from a 3 or 4-story building.  The baby falling from a bed, a child’s arms or an adult’s arms, even onto a hardwood floor, would be insufficient to cause this much damage.

Plus, the retinal bleeding does not come from an impact, but from a violent shaking.

The prosecutor maintained that there was only one person in the house when the incident occurred that could have physically done this kind of damage and that was the defendant.  The daughter was out.  The owner was out.  The kids were too small.  The defendant said she heard her daughter come in, so it follows that she would have heard someone else come in as well.

A homicide detective was also called to testify.  He had been notified at 2:30 am on the night in question, that there had been an incident with a newborn, and she was not expected to live.  As there were other detectives on the case, he did not take action until the following afternoon.  He went to the house, surveyed the scene, and asked the defendant, her daughter and her son to come to the station to be interviewed.  That’s where the tape was made.

The interview lasted about 10 minutes.  The defendant sounded calm and cooperative.  She maintained that she went to sleep with the child up in the bed and the other kids eating, and didn’t wake up until her daughter found the baby bleeding.

The daughter was similarly interviewed but the prosecutor did not ask to have it put into evidence.  A social worker interviewed the 3-year old.  This interview was not put forth for evidence either.

The detective said there was no need to Mirandize the defendant or her daughter because they were not under arrest.  They were being interviewed willingly.  In fact, at that time, he could not yet surmise that a crime had taken place.  All he had was an injured baby.  It wasn’t until he was able to speak with the supervising physician and learn the extent of the injuries, and the force necessary to cause them, that he could conclude that the child had been abused and a crime had taken place.

The Defense’s Case 
The defense counsel maintained that there were other ways the baby could have gotten hurt besides via the defendant.  Namely,

*  The homeowner could have come in and done it.  He had a key and lived in the house.

*  The child could have done it.  He was an active kid and fully capable of getting up and down the stairs.  He always wanted to hold the baby but was not allowed to.  (Testimony was that the kid weighed 45 pounds and stood three quarters up his mommy’s thigh.)

*  Someone else could have come in the door and done it because the defendant was asleep.

Other points: the defendant had no history of abuse or deceit.  Her daughter testified that her mother never hit them and was in general, a good mother.  If the case was that serious, why didn’t the detective get up at 2:30 AM and start his investigation then?  Why did the daughter and the paramedic see a knot on the head, but not the supervising physician?  How can the doctor equate the impact to that of a crash ejection or 3-4 story fall when he can't explain the physics involved from the witness stand?  Isn’t it true that there are some doctors that don’t believe Shaken Baby Syndrome is a real thing?  Why did the detective arrest the defendant only after “the doctor told him it was a crime?”  Why wasn’t the homeowner brought in and more seriously questioned?

One of the main items was the daughter’s testimony that when she went upstairs and found the baby, the 3-year old said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”  She also said that the boy had “picked her up and dropped her, then picked her up again and dropped her again.”  She didn’t elaborate further, nor explain how she learned that, and neither the prosecution nor defense asked any direct questions about what else the boy may have said or done.  As I mentioned earlier, they never offered his interview into evidence.  (I learned later that it was disallowed before trial.  More on how I learned that, later.)

Without coming out and directly stating it, the defense attorney seemed to be latching onto this option as most likely… that the boy was playing with the baby and dropped her, more than once.

My Take
After I was dismissed, I was waiting at the elevator with Alternate #2, when the defense attorney walked up.  He asked me if I would mind telling him what I thought about the case… “If you were up there in the back row, what would you think when you went back to that jury room?” 

I said, “I’d think, ‘I really hope the bathrooms in here are working!’”

No, I didn’t say that, but only because I didn’t think of it until now.

I told him I was leaning toward guilty.  I really wanted to sum up what I’d been thinking about, but naturally, all thoughts flew out of my head the moment I needed them.  I did tell him I thought a lot of the things he was putting out there were red herrings and didn’t affect the crux of the matter.  I told him, “I really would have liked to hear from the Social Worker that interviewed the boy.”

It was then he told me it was inadmissible. 

Right off the bat, from the first day, one of my thoughts was, “What did the boy say about it?”  At three, he knows what’s going on in there.  And I don’t think he’d be savvy enough to pull off a lie to a grownup trained to find them. 

Anyway, to me, the whole case comes down to this:  The medical expert said the injuries couldn’t have been caused by a child, or by a fall from several feet or even by a fall down the stairs.  You should have seen those scans.  There were huge cracks in the skull, pushed wider from the brain swelling.  One of them looked like a Mercedes logo:

There were fractures all around the head… there must have been several impacts.  Also, no child could have shaken that baby enough to produce the retinal bleeding; they just don’t have the upper body strength.

I found the medical expert credible and he had no reason to lie or exaggerate.  He was not being paid for his testimony.

So if the kids didn’t do it, who is left?  I believe that if anyone else had come in the door, the defendant would have heard it, just like she heard her daughter come in.

When you strip away all that it can’t be, the only thing left is what can.  That’s the defendant.

While it’s true that no one ever saw what exactly happened, there’s nothing wrong with deductive reasoning.  Say I have 3 shells and one pea.  Without you seeing, I put a pea under one shell.  Then I pick up a shell and there’s no pea.  I pick up another shell and there’s no pea.  At that point, you can conclude that the pea is under the third shell.  You didn’t see me put it there, but beyond a reasonable doubt, you know it’s there. 

Anyway, I found that the defense attorney’s other strategies to be mostly distraction, wordplay and red herrings.  The one that bugged me the most was how he kept saying that the “detective didn't think it was a crime until the Doctor told him it was.”  This was a major point to which he frequently returned. 

But that’s not really what happened; that’s just a skewing of the words.  The doctor did not tell him it was a crime, he told him of the severity of the injuries.  That information MADE it a crime, by the detective’s standards and guidelines.  That’s not a real issue.

Nor is what time the detective began the investigation.  The defense attorney made a big deal about the detective waiting until the next afternoon to investigate.  But the thing is, it was already being investigated by other cops; just not by him.  When he came in, they handed off the notes and he took over.  That is also not an issue.

Regarding the Doctor “not knowing the physics” behind the impact reference, I wouldn’t think he needed to know that.  After all, he’s personally seen what happens to a body in those falls and crashes.  And saying "this damage is like that damage" does not require expertise in physics, but merely experience in observation of the results. 

And while it may be true that there are “some doctors” that don’t think “Shaken Baby” is a real thing, I might also point out that there are doctors that don’t think smoking causes cancer either.  I’d bet you can’t get a roomful of doctors to agree on anything unanimously.  So that’s another red herring.

So at the end of it all, after the “he said/she said,” to me it came down to the only relevant point:  The kids were physically incapable of doing it.  The notion of someone coming in, the homeowner included, beating up an infant and then leaving without being noticed, is remote. 

I found the testimony of the doctor and detective to be credible.  They were experienced, knowledgeable, and really didn’t have any reason to lie.  Their “I’s” were dotted and “T’s” were crossed when it came to the evidence.

And it’s not like the defendant was a bad witness.  She was calm and composed, and stuck to her story.  She seemed like a nice lady.  The worst thing I can say about her is that during jury selection, she had her stretch pants on inside-out.  I could see a big white spot in the middle of her ass and at first I thought her underwear was showing through a rip.  I later realize it was not the same color that was exposed over the top of her pants… a good 7-8 inches worth.  On my way back from bench, during voir dire, I saw that it was the tag.  I almost voted guilty right there.  My rule is: if you can’t even dress yourself, for your own trial, how can I trust your word?

But seriously… she’s the only one there with a motive to lie.  Her daughter… she wasn’t there, so she doesn’t really know what went on.  Obviously, she’ll want to back her mother. 

So again: The kids couldn’t do it, it couldn’t have been an accident or a fall off the bed, and no one else was home. 


Signed, Alternate Juror #3.

Note: My apologies for the length of this post, but I didn’t feel like this was a good one to split up.

Late Update: I heard from my juror friend and they found the defendant guilty on 3 of the 4 counts.  (Which is exactly the way I would have pitched it, walking in.)  Tomorrow morning, I'll have a full rundown of the end-game and what happened to the principals.


Dazee Dreamer said...

Thank you so much for telling us the whole story. That makes me sad. What did the jury come back with. or did you already say and I just missed it?

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a tragic situation. And I'm sure I were in the jury, there would be a strong urge that someone has to pay for this. But how about the family for having an Oxycodone-using, pants-inside-out wearing babysitter?

My only question is about the interview with the defendent before it was a crime. If you knew you killed the baby, would you ever talk to a detective casually like that? Maybe you would if you were an Oxycodone-using, pants-inside-out wearing babysitter.

Oilfield Trash said...

Wow that would have been a very difficult case to hear as a juror.

Madras and Pearls said...

That's so crazy!

Judie said...

Too bad they didn't pick you to be a regular juror. You really took excellent notes.

You know, the babysitter could have invlicted the injuries to the baby before taking the Oxycontin and lying down on the sofa. Maybe she just forgot she violebtly shook that baby to get it to shut up.

Pants inside out? And her attorney let her get away with that? Strange!!

Anonymous said...

I don't know. I feel like my 3 year old son could do some serious damage to an 18 day old infant. I mean 18 days old is like total mushy, careful, don't kiss it too hard or it might break. 3 year old says "hey 18 day old baby want to go for a walk?" grabs it's teeny hand and drags it off the bed and hits it on a couple of pieces of furniture and the floor a couple times. I've seen what kids can do to a baby doll and I've thought, thank God that isn't a real baby. Either way...very very sad. Very good reporting too. You should write a blog or something. Ha!

Mary Ann said...

You give a thorough picture of real horror. I agree the three year old's is testimony is important. Why did one child say, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry"?
Have you heard the verdict yet?

This is even more heartbreaking after seeing the first pictures of Eddie J and his fond parents.
"It's a strange strange world we live in, Master Bluz."

bluzdude said...

I just heard from my juror friend. The found the defendant guilty on 3 of 4 counts. I’ll have a full post on the end-game in the morning.

Yes, it indeed was a very sad case. The baby will be developmentally challenged for a very long time, if not forever. And if the defendant is found guilty, her son will be without a mother for a time. (There was never any discussion of prospective sentencing while I was there.)

According to testimony from both defendant and daughter, the daughter only had one Oxycodone left, and the defendant took it. It was the first time she’d ever taken one.

I also found the tone of her testimony to be at odds with what happened at the house. That was something that I considered. But I didn’t find that to be a big enough issue to overcome the other factors; ie. discounting that the 3-year old could have done it, the remote possibility that someone sneaking in, beating the baby and leaving undetected…

Perhaps it’s the “Costanza” factor at work, as formulated on Seinfeld: “It’s not a lie, if you believe it.”

Believe it or not, I didn’t approach it as needing to find someone to blame. To me, it was more like solving a puzzle in the most likely fashion. Someone did grave harm to a baby… it didn’t happen in a vacuum. So who was it? The options were limited.

It totally was. One could only imagine what happened to that little baby. 18 days old! Just unbelievable.

Probably the most dramatic moment was after the defense did his closing argument, raising all the “doubts” I listed earlier. The prosecutor then got to make a follow-up statement. She started by taking a huge legal book she had on her desk, raising it over her head, and slamming it to the floor. (Right at my feet, too, since I was sitting outside the jury box.) The effect was jarring.

You said it! Thanks for visiting!

Wow, you have a blog named after Bruce Willis’ limo driver in Die Hard?

Even though I was pretty sure they wouldn’t let me keep my notes, I continued taking them (even on the last day when I knew I wouldn’t be deliberating) because just the mere act of recording things helps me remember the facts. And I’d have to say, considering all the stuff I regurgitated into this post, things stuck pretty well.

My opinion of the Oxycodone was that at the defendant’s weight, one pill certainly wouldn’t be a “knockout” dose. Any number of things could have happened in there, and the sequence of events did not necessarily have to be as the defendant testified.

Personally, I would have liked to have heard testimony confirming that the daughter did, indeed have a prescription for Oxy, AND that the defendant was tested to confirm the drug’s presence in her body. But again, real life does not often play out like TV court dramas.

Lastly, I agree. I can’t believe that no one on the defendant’s side had her change her pants immediately. Although I did notice that after we moved to the courtroom (from the jury-picking room), she did switch her pants. Either that or someone just removed the tag.

It might have been helpful to actually see the 3-year old. Height and weight on paper don’t really help visualize the potential for damage. But I just kept thinking back to the severity of the damage, as shown by the X-rays and CT Scans. I have to think that for a child of that age, he’d have to be incredibly violent and savage in an attack. (And all taking place without waking the defendant.) All parties testified that the boy loved the baby. And again, even repeated accidental drops would not generate the force necessary to cause those kinds of injuries.

It was, indeed, a very tricky thing to think about.

And thanks for visiting! Sorry I didn’t have any of my goofier stuff up…

bluzdude said...

Mary Ann,
The 3-year old’s complete story was the biggest missing piece, no question. I suspect that the prosecution was not allowed to use anything, and the defense kept the details purposefully vague.

DG said...

The credibility of statements of a child is a very debated topic in legal circles. Especially below a certain age, they are so suggestable.

Such a very very sad case. In my youth I wanted to be a public defender so I tend to put myself in the shoes of the accused and presume she/he is innocent.

bluzdude said...

I figured it was something like that... that made the boy's testimony inadmissible.

This defense guy was no public defender. Dude reeked of high-class lawyer... very slick, very well dressed. Maybe he was doing pro bono work.

Mrs. Bachelor Girl said...

For very complicated and personal reasons, including some that I can't articulate very well, I do not support the death penalty.

But cases like this make me reconsider my position.

From this description, I'd say the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

bluzdude said...

Mrs. Bachelor Girl,
Thank you for so eloquently agreeing with me.