Houston County child abuse trial slated for this week

bpurser@macon.comOctober 26, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- A Warner Robins couple is accused of child abuse after multiple fractures were discovered after a body scan of their infant daughter in November 2012. But their attorneys say the fractures were the result of a medical disease.

Johan and Nashan Pereira, both 32 and both technical sergeants in the U.S. Air Force, are set for trial this week in Houston County Superior Court. Jury selection is set for Monday.

Johan Pereira, a passenger travel clerk with the 78th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Robins Air Force Base, was indicted Oct. 2 on a charge of first-degree cruelty to children.

He allegedly handled the baby “in such a manner ... to cause multiple fractures in her body.” He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Nashan Pereira, a quality control inspector with the same squadron at Robins, also was indicted Oct. 2 on a charge of second-degree cruelty to children. She’s accused of criminal negligence “by failing to intervene.” She faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The baby suffered “cruel and excessive physical pain” between Oct. 27, 2012, and Nov. 12, 2012, the indictment states. The infant was about three months old at the time.

The child, Gabriella Pereira, is now 1 and lives with her father’s parents in California. She was born in August 2012.

Her mother and father pleaded not guilty.

“My client and his wife have professed their innocence throughout this,” said Bernadette Crucilla, a Macon attorney representing Johan Pereira. “The evidence will all come out.”

Bonita Bush, a Macon attorney representing Nashan Pereira, said, “Obviously I think the evidence will show that our clients are not guilty of the charges, and they are looking forward to getting this over with and getting their family back together.”

Defense attorneys have declined to elaborate on the underlying medical disease they think caused the multiple fractures. But a review of the case file in Superior Court includes references to rickets, a softening and weakening of the bones due to a lack of vitamin D, calcium or phosphate and to a brittle-bone disease known as osteogenesis imperfecta.

But the court file also includes counterclaims from a medical expert for the prosecution that many of the fractures are consistent with an infant being held and shaken roughly.

Assistant District Attorney Clif Woody said he could not comment on the case before trial. He and Mark Anthony, an assistant district attorney, are prosecuting the case.

Johan and Nashan Pereira each had been facing 30 years in prison under the original April 23 indictment in which they were charged with first-degree cruelty to children and aggravated battery. Bush said she would like to think the more serious charges were dropped because prosecutors couldn’t prove them.

Among numerous motions filed by the defense was one to prohibit the introduction of hearsay statements made by the 5-year-old son of Johan Pereira. The statements allegedly were made when the boy was 4 years old and the allegations first surfaced. The boy lives with his mother, Maria Pereira, in Warner Robins.

The alleged hearsay statements are: “His daddy and his daddy’s wife are not nice to him and he is scared to go their house.” “His daddy and daddy’s wife fight a lot in front of him.” “He is afraid of his daddy who yells at him and makes him scared.” “There are dragons under the bed.” “The police have come to the house.”

Crucilla said she withdrew the motion to prohibit those statements after prosecutors agreed the statements could only be introduced through the testimony of the child himself. The boy is on the prosecution’s witness list, but that does not necessarily mean he will be called to take the stand.

Numerous doctors, nurses, social workers, child advocates and medical experts are expected to testify during what is anticipated to be a long trial before Judge Katherine K. Lumsden. The trial is expected to last at least one week and may spill over into the following week.

Both sides also are expected to call co-workers, neighbors and friends of the couple. The mother of Johan Pereira and the mother of Nashan Pereira also are expected to testify.

Some of the medical experts are expected to testify by Skype, a free service that allows users to talk over the Internet using a microphone and webcam.

Also, stacks of medical records and exhibits are expected to be introduced during the trial.

Following the criminal trial, the parents face a deprivation hearing in Houston County Juvenile Court. If the judge finds during that hearing that Gabriella has been deprived, the parents will next face a hearing in Juvenile Court to determine whether their parental rights should be terminated.

“We certainly hope an acquittal in the criminal trial would dispose of the issues in Juvenile Court,” Bush said. “Otherwise, we try this case twice.”

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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