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Martinez woman convicted in toddler's 2009 death

Posted: September 7, 2012 - 11:55pm  |  Updated: September 10, 2012 - 11:52am
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Lawanda Concettes Tripp, center, stands with her attorney, Victor Hawk, to be sentenced before Superior Court Judge Michael N. Annis late Friday after a jury convicted her in the 2009 death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall.   VALERIE ROWELL/STAFF
VALERIE ROWELL/STAFF
Lawanda Concettes Tripp, center, stands with her attorney, Victor Hawk, to be sentenced before Superior Court Judge Michael N. Annis late Friday after a jury convicted her in the 2009 death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall.

Twitter @ValerieRowell

 

Several members of the jury that convicted Lawanda Tripp, cried as they watched her sentenced to prison late Friday.

After four days of testimony and four hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Tripp, 41, of involuntary manslaughter.

“She wouldn’t hurt anyone,” Tripp’s mother, Barbara Green said at the sentencing following the verdict. “She’s a good person. They are wrong. They are wrong.”

Tripp was charged with murder in the Nov. 15, 2009, death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall, who Tripp was in Tripp’s care when she died of head injuries.

Superior Court Judge Michael N. Annis sentenced Tripp to the maximum of 10 years in prison. She’ll get credit for the nearly three years she’s already served in the Columbia County Detention Center since her arrest.

“I am innocent of any wrong-doing,” Tripp said before the sentence was imposed. “I would never hurt a child. I’m sorry Teaira is gone. I live with it every day. I’m sorry to the family of Teaira Hall.”

The trial is the second for Tripp, whose first one last month was declared a mistrial by Annis after jurors announced they were deadlocked.

Authorities were called to Tripp’s Avery Landing home Nov. 15, 2009, responding to a report that the child wasn’t breathing.

There was evidence Teaira had old, healing head injuries. Tripp’s attorney, Victor Hawk, said Teaira’s tantrum head-banging led to a seizure, brain swelling and her death. But two forensic pathologists, one testifying for the state and the other for the defense, agree a head injury at the time she collapsed ultimately caused the toddler’s death.

Annis said the case was about getting justice for Teaira.

“The jury rendering a verdict brings closure to the victim, and to Teaira, ... and to the people that loved that child,” Annis said. “The healing can begin (for families of Teaira and Tripp).”

Hawk said that Tripp declined to agree to plea agreements offered by the District Attorneys Office offering freedom if she admitted guilt.

“She would not take that option,” Hawk said. “She would not consider that option. She would not admit to doing something that she didn’t do.”

 

Day 4

 

The retrial began Tuesday and testimony finished late Friday afternoon with Tripp’s testimony.

When Tripp took the stand, she denied hurting Teaira.

“I would never hurt Teaira or any child,” Tripp said. “I loved Teaira like she was my own daughter. I became very close to her. I just wanted to teach her.”

Authorities were called to Tripp’s Avery Landing home Nov. 15, 2009, responding to a report that the child wasn’t breathing.

Dr. John Plunkett, a forensic pathologist testifying for the defense, spent Friday morning on the stand. He reviewed Teaira’s case autopsy file and agreed with the medical examiner that Teaira had both old and new injuries.

Unlike the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, Plunkett said he believed Teaira was more susceptible to brain injury because she had existing head injuries. Both doctors recognized bruises on Teaira’s forehead and several scalp bruises including two large ones on the back of her head.

“Ultimately, it’s head injury that caused her death,” Plunkett said. “The head-banging may well have been a precipitating factor in her death.”

With existing head injuries, Plunkett said impacts to Teaira’s head – self-inflicted, inflicted by someone else or accidental – sent her into a seizure that stopped her breathing or stopped her breathing that led to a seizure. But the resulting brain swelling caused the toddler’s death, he said.

Tripp, who denied harming the child in her previous trial, will be testifying Friday afternoon.

 

Day 3

 

Testimony in the retrial of a Martinez woman charged in the 2009 death of a toddler she was baby-sitting is expected to conclude Friday.

The prosecution rested and the defense began Thursday in the retrial Tripp.

Tripp, 41, is charged with murder in the death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall, who was in Tripp’s care when she died from head injuries.

The retrial began Tuesday and the jury is expected to begin deliberations Friday.

Authorities were called to Tripp’s Avery Landing home Nov. 15, 2009, responding to a report that the child wasn’t breathing.

Teaira died from traumatic head injuries, according to Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins. She suffered injuries and swelling to her brain and optical structures, prosecuting attorney John Markwalter said.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner Dr. Keith Lehman, who performed the autopsy on Teaira, confirmed that she had some old head injuries. Bruises on her scalp could have been new injuries super-imposed onto old ones, he said.

But those injuries, he said, did not contribute to Teaira’s death, he said. Inflicted brain injury and swelling, impeding the brain from controlling her heart rate and breathing, was the fatal injury.

Her death is the result of “multiple severe head impacts that resulted in the brain injury,” Lehman said.

The lethal head injuries, Lehman said, likely happened within minutes or hours of the 911 call for help.

Lead Columbia County sheriff’s investigator, James Edmunds, also testified. Tripp told him that Teaira had a tantrum and banged her head on the floor and front door of her home. Tripp said she was trying to hurry and get dressed to take the toddler to McDonald’s.

“I screamed at her,” Tripp said in a video recorded interview with Edmunds. “I told her to stop. I thought she was just acting like a brat. If I would have just picked her up and took her to the bedroom with me...”

Patrick Smith, a longtime friend of Tripp’s, and Steven White, a former co-worker of Tripp and Teaira’s mother, Antoinette, noticed the toddler had strange mannerisms like rocking and head-bobbing. Smith testified that when he saw Teaira in September, the toddler was lethargic and seemed “out of it.”

Smith, White and Claudia Gonzales said Tripp took good care of Teaira, who she watched often, and treated her as her own child.

Edmunds said Tripp didn’t react much when he told her Teaira died or when he interviewed her. He said she cried without tears.

But her attorney, Victor Hawk, said her “emotionless” demeanor is because of medications she took for anxiety and depression.

 

Day 2

 

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 Aug. 11 when jurors announced they were deadlocked after more than 11 hours of deliberation.

Tripp denied harming Teaira when she testified at the initial trial.

Hawk 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.

Tripp said that she yelled at the toddler to stop while she hurried to get ready to take her to McDonalds.

During an interview with Columbia County sheriff’s Sgt. James Moss the night of Teaira’s death, Tripp said she felt guilty for not physically stopping Teaira from banging her head.

“I feel so responsible,” Tripp told Moss. “I should have picked the child up. It’s all my fault.”

Teaira’s mother, Antoin­ette Hall, testified that her daughter seemed happy and healthy when she left her in Tripp’s care. She admitted that her daughter sometimes banged her head during tantrums.

On Tuesday, a doctor testified that Teaira’s fatal injuries were likely not the result of tantrum head-banging. On Wednesday, emergency personnel who responded described the child as having a weak pulse and not breathing.

“The child was very sick,” emergency room physician Dr. David Coffin said.

The jury heard a tape of the 911 call, placed by Tripp’s neighbors who were helping with Teaira. In the background, a hysterical Tripp is heard saying that Teaira was crying, hitting her head and screaming.

On the way to the hospital, Tripp told Emergency Medical Technician Carl Lynn a similar story.

“She kept saying over and over,” Lynn testified Wednesday, “‘I should have picked her up.’”

A Georgia Bureau of Investigation forensic computer analyst, who examined Tripp’s computer, also testified Wednesday. She said in the hours after Teaira was taken to the hospital, when Tripp didn’t yet know she died, Tripp spent hours doing Internet searches about children with tantrums, the consequences and children on ventilators.

The searches also included several what seemed to be prayers for Teaira such as, “Please God help TT. She is not breathing on her own and is just a baby.”

The jury will return to the courtroom at 9 a.m. Thursday for more testimony and possibly the conclusion of the prosecution’s case.

 

Day 1

 

The second trial of a Martinez woman charged in the death of a toddler she was baby-sitting started Tuesday.

Tripp, 41, is charged with murder in the 2009 death of Teaira, 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,” Markwalter said.

Authorities were called to the Martinez home, 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 baby-sitter.”

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.

  • Comment

Comments (2)

ISpyABigLie

WRONG PERSON SENT TO JAIL!

It is truly a shame that our judicial system has once again failed us. The DA has chosen the easiest person to pin the death of this poor child on instead of going after the truth. Now the person responsible for the death of this child will only have her own conscience to torment her throughout her life. Lets hope it's loud!
And, as for the DA, I wonder at the end of your time if you are judged by how many innocent people to send to jail? That will put one definite black mark on his record.

'Whose house is of glass, must not throw stones at another.' ~ George Herbert

concernmom

TBI resulting in death

Was Tiara under this woman's care 24/7? Where was the mother or father? The News-times does not indicate how long the child was under Ms. Tripp's care. Was the father and/or mother deployed? Did Tripp babysit every day? Did Tiara live with Ms. Tripp? This article indicates the child had old injuries and the new one was the one that basically killed her. It also stated the child had seemed like she had head injury issues prior to her death like rocking, head bobbing, etc... Seems like a Neurologist should have been called in to see analyze the autopsy. The parent(s) or someone else could have caused some of this, as well as the babysitter. Lots of unanswered questions. Something just doesn't seem right about the outcome.

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