The second trial of a Martinez woman charged in the death of a toddler she was baby-sitting started Tuesday.
Lawanda Concettes Tripp, 41, is charged with murder in the 2009 death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall, who was in Tripp’s care when she died from head injuries.
The original trial began Aug. 6. Superior Court Judge Michael N. Annis declared a mistrial on Aug. 11, when jurors announced they were deadlocked after more than 11 hours of deliberation.
“Time is of the essence in this case,” Annis said.
Testimony in the first trial lasted four days and the jury deliberated all of the fifth day.
After choosing a jury, attorneys presented their opening statements Tuesday afternoon.
“This case really is about the death of innocence with that child, and this community with the loss of the child,” Assistant District Attorney John Markwalter said.
Authorities were called to Tripp’s Avery Landing home on Nov. 15, 2009, responding to a report that the child wasn’t breathing. At the time of the call, Teaira was in Tripp’s care.
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, described Tripp as a “good, kind babysitter.”
He said Teaira was left in Tripp’s care sick and with existing head injuries. Teaira banged her head during a tantrum, causing a seizure and ultimately, her death, Hawk said.
“Lawanda tried her best to take care of that little girl,” Hawk said. “This child was injured before Lawanda Tripp received Teaira. Lawanda Tripp did nothing, nothing to cause this baby’s death.”
During the initial trial, experts offered differing opinions as to when the fatal head injuries might have occurred.
Markwalter said that Teaira might have had previous injuries but that the fatal ones happened while in Tripp’s care and were likely inflicted by Tripp.
Teaira’s mother, Antoinette Hall, testified that her daughter seemed happy and healthy when she left her in Tripp’s care. She did admit her daughter sometimes banged her head during tantrums.
But Dr. Jordan Greenbaum, medical director for the Children’ Healthcare of Atlanta Center for Safe and Healthy Children, said she didn’t believe Teaira’s fatal injuries were the result of tantrum head-banging.
Tripp’s former neighbor’s, James and Lois Johnson, also testified about the hysterical scene when Tripp asked for help for Teaira, who wasn’t breathing. They called 911 and performed CPR until emergency responders arrived.
“It was so chaotic,” Mrs. Johnson said. “Everything happened so fast.”
Jurors will return at 9 a.m. and are expected to listen to the 911 tape and hear from more witnesses.