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Woman charged in toddler's death to testify at retrial Friday

Posted: September 7, 2012 - 1:23pm  |  Updated: September 7, 2012 - 1:26pm
Photo By Jim Blaylock
Lawanda Tripp watches as her former supervisor Sgt. Samantha Campbell testifies via Skype during her trial for the murder of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall, who was in Tripp’s care when she died from head injuries.Photo By Va

Twitter @ValerieRowell

 

A Martinez woman charged win the death of a toddler she was baby-sitting will likely take the stand in her own defense Friday.

Lawanda Concettes Tripp, 41, is expected to testify on the last day of her retrial when jurors return from a lunch break at 1:30 p.m.

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.

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.

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