Medical examiner testifies
WORTHINGTON -- Lisa Shane broke down in tears as medical examiner Kelly Mills described the process and results of the autopsy performed on Shane's 3-month-old daughter, Ashanta Rosa Chavarria, after her death in November 2004.
Opening statements began Wednesday in the case of Minnesota v. Shane, the 20-year-old woman from Adrian on trial in Nobles County District Court for two counts of second-degree murder and one count of child neglect.
The jury, made up of seven men and seven women, listened intently as Assistant Attorney General William F. Klumpp described the series of events in fall 2004 that led to the infant's death.
"We are not claiming the defendant intended to kill her daughter," Klumpp said.
Klumpp pointed out the inconsistencies in Shane's various statements to doctors and authorities on the events that led to the child receiving a blow to the skull, which caused a four-inch fracture that Klumpp said "literally scrambled her brains, causing her brain to die."
"She ultimately pointed her finger at her boyfriend," Klumpp told the jury. "You aren't going to like Jose Chavarria."
Shane brought the baby to the emergency room around 11 p.m. Oct. 28, 2004, in serious distress. She told medical staff there had been no trauma to the child -- that she had been the primary caregiver that day, Klumpp said.
She told authorities she had not seen Jose Chavarria, who had been released from jail that day. She later said he had been at her house before noon and had pushed her, causing her to drop the baby, who then hit her head on a metal futon.
Klumpp told the jury it would hear evidence -- in the form of a phone message left for Chavarria's sister -- stating she did not even know if Chavarria had been released.
Fifth Judicial District Chief Public Defender James D. Fleming described the relationship between Shane and Chavarria as "stormy," explaining it dissolved into frequent arguments and an occasional assault. He spoke of the hardships Shane dealt with caring for four young children, two with special needs.
"The home health nurses had concern for the young girl with two special needs children," Fleming admitted. "But compassion can become a little judgmental."
Fleming said Shane was afraid to admit Chavarria had been at her home, having previously been warned by the pediatrician she could lose her children if they ever came to harm in his presence.
Mills, first person to testify for the state, said she believed the cause of death for the infant was closed head trauma due to child abuse. She determined the manner of death to be homicide.
Mills reported the fracture to the baby's head took up almost the entire surface of the skull and the right side of the brain was completely dead. She believed the healing rib fractures to be a few weeks older than the head injury.
According to evidence, the rounded metal frame on the futon in question is 21 inches from the floor.
"The depth she fell would not explain the injuries to her head and skull," Mills said, estimating the energy necessary to fracture the skull and do the damage to the brain would be the equivalent of a three-story fall for an adult -- and possibly more for an infant, whose bones have not calcified and are more pliable.
Mills said even with prompt medical treatment, the child's outlook would have been "very dismal," with a 2 to 10 percent survival probability.
Jerri Goodell, a home health nurse who saw Ashanta the morning of Oct. 28, said the child seemed to be in good health.
"I was actually surprised," Goodell said. "She looked really good."
Goodell had performed an examination on Ashanta, estimating she arrived at 10 a.m. and left at 11 a.m., she told Nobles County Attorney Gordon Moore. No other adults were present at that time, and the home was immaculate.
On cross-examination, Fleming asked if the times Goodell had written on the home health report were exact or estimated. Goodell said they were estimated and may have been off by a few minutes, 15 at the most.
Jerry Davis, the ER doctor working when Shane brought Ashanta to the hospital, said the child was flaccid and appeared to be in critical condition. He said he inquired about any trauma, and that Shane knew of none.
Within 10 minutes of his initial examination of the baby, Davis called Sioux Valley Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D. for an airlift. Moore asked about a comment Davis had written in his ER notes about child abuse or neglect.
"It is mandatory we report on any case we suspect may be child abuse," Davis said. "I let Dr. Ludes do that."
"Was this such a case?" Moore asked.
"I didn't know at the time," Davis replied. "I recollect she had no idea why the child had these problems."
The trial continues today with more medical testimony.