Officials postponed the conclusion of the trial of a Martinez woman charged in the death of a toddler she was baby-sitting.
The trial of Lawanda Concettes Tripp, 41, started Monday and witnesses testified through Tuesday afternoon. A key prosecution witness, who was not named, isn’t available until Thursday morning, Assistant District Attorney John Markwalter said.
Tripp is charged with murder in the death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall, who was in Tripp’s care.
Authorities were called to Tripp’s Avery Landing home on Nov. 15, 2009, in response to a report that the child wasn’t breathing.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday, Superior Court Judge Michael N. Annis said.
A video-taped interview with Tripp, conducted by Columbia County sheriff’s Investigator James Edmunds, was played for the jury Tuesday.
In the interview, done only hours after Teaira died, Tripp explained how the toddler was sick for two days before the incident, not eating much and vomiting what little she did.
“She’s gone and it hurts and for some reason I can’t cry,” Tripp said in the interview. “I’m still in shock.”
Emergency responders, including a Columbia County sheriff’s deputy, a firefighter and an EMT testified that they were initially told Teaira possibly choked on M&Ms.
Dr. David Coffin said he initially treated Teaira, who was brought into the emergency room without a pulse and not breathing, as a choking victim. He was then told she might have sustained head trauma from banging her head in a tantrum.
Teaira died of multi-traumatic head injuries, according to Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins. She suffered injury and swelling to her brain and optical structures, Markwalter said.
Sheriff’s Sgt. James Moss, the criminal investigator assigned to the case, interviewed Tripp, who said Teaira was sick earlier in the day. She told Moss that Teaira wanted to be held and started crying. Tripp told the toddler she’d take her to McDonald’s and went to the bedroom to change clothes.
Tripp said she saw Teaira “pitch a fit,” bang her head on the floor, and she told her to stop. Tripp told Edmunds about Teaira’s fit and head-banging in the interview.
Attorneys selected a jury and made opening statements Monday, the first day of the trial.
Authorities were called to Tripp's Avery Landing home on Nov. 15, 2009, in response to a report that the child wasn't breathing. At the time of the call, Teaira was in Tripp's care, said Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris.
"It was the death of innocence in many ways," Assistant District Attorney John Markwalter said of Teaira's death.
Teaira died from multi-traumatic head injuries, according to Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins. She suffered injury and swelling to her brain and optical structures, Markwalter said.
Tripp's attorney, Victor Hawk, told the jury that Teaira had "a history of temper tantrums, banging her head on objects." Her mother, Antoinette Hall testified that Teaira would sometimes bang her head on the floor, walls or furniture when she threw a fit.
Tripp, formerly a civilian employee on Fort Gordon, and Hall worked together and Tripp baby-sat Teaira several times before.
Hawk said Teaira's fatal symptoms were the result of a pre-existing injury, sustained before the toddler was left with Tripp two days before. A head-banging tantrum at Tripp's home aggravated the injury and sent Teaira into a seizure.
"Nothing Lawanda Tripp did to that baby caused her death at all," Hawk said.
Tripp initially told deputies that the child was acting "strange" and was "throwing a fit," according to a sheriff's office incident report.
Markwalter said Tripp provided emergency personnel and her neighbors, who called 911 and helped administer CPR to the toddler, an "ever-evolving pattern of statements" ranging from no explanation, to Teaira choked on M&Ms to she threw a tantrum that caused her injuries.
"Lawanda doesn't know what it is," Hawk said. "She just knows she's got a baby not breathing, fists clenched, staring."
Tripp rode in the ambulance with Teaira to Doctors Hospital. The toddler did not survive transfer to the Medical College of Georgia Hospital.
Tripp is being held in the Columbia County Detention Center without bond, according to jail records.
Two teachers at Teaira's daycare center and Tripp's neighbors also testified on the first day of the trial.
“I thought she was just being a brat,” Tripp said of Teaira’s tantrum.
But in the interview, she seemed remorseful she didn’t pick the child up.
“She said, ‘I feel so responsible,’” Moss testified. “’I should have picked the child up. It’s all my fault.’”
Only after a doctor found a knot on the back of Teaira’s head did Tripp demonstrate for Moss how she said Teaira sat by the door, hit her head on the floor between her legs, then slammed her head backward into the door.
Tripp, formerly a civilian employee at Fort Gordon, and Teaira’s mother, Antionette Hall, worked together, and Tripp had baby-sat Teaira several times.
Tripp’s attorney, Victor Hawk, said Teaira’s fatal symptoms were the result of a pre-existing injury, sustained before the toddler was left with Tripp two days before. A head-banging tantrum at Tripp’s home aggravated the injury and sent Teaira into a seizure.
“Nothing Lawanda Tripp did to that baby caused her death at all,” Hawk said.
Hall testified Monday that her daughter sometimes banged her head on the floor, wall or objects when she threw a temper tantrum. She brought her cousin, Martina Cuffie, to the hospital with her.
Cuffie testified that Tripp told her several versions of what happened while in the waiting room. Cuffie said Tripp told her Teaira threw a tantrum, hit her head and stopped breathing. She then said she heard a shriek and found Teaira lifeless. Then Tripp mentioned she might have choked on M&Ms.
Michelle Johnson, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation forensic computer analyst, testified Tuesday that she’d examined Tripp’s computer. Just after midnight, hours after Teaira died and before her interview with Edmunds, Tripp performed several Google searches.
She looked for terms like “children that throw temper tantrums resulting in dangerous conditions,” “children on breathing machines,” and “God, please help TT. She’s not breathing on her own and she’s just a baby.”