FORT VALLEY — A Reynolds woman on trial in Peach County Superior Court for the murder of her 6-month-old niece is innocent, one of her attorneys told jurors Tuesday.
Lashunika Aquinde Harp, 24, was indicted for murder in the Sept. 26, 2008, death of Ryauna Mathis. Harp had been inside her sister’s Fort Valley apartment with her sister’s baby Sept. 24, 2008, when her sister went outside to talk with their mother. The baby was found unresponsive inside the home and taken by ambulance first to Peach Regional Medical Center and then to The Children’s Hospital at The Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, where the baby died two days later.
“This was a tragic accident that occurred before ... Harp even came to visit her sister that day,” Elizabeth Waller, a public defense attorney representing Harp, told jurors. “Nothing can bring this baby back. ... We ask you not to deliver another tragedy ... of convicting an innocent woman of a crime that did not occur.”
But John Geiger, an assistant district attorney for the Macon Judicial District that includes Peach County, asked jurors to “reach a decision that speaks the truth ... that (Harp) is guilty of murder.”
Geiger told jurors that Harp and her mother drove to the apartment of her sister, Teron Mathis. Harp went inside where the baby was sitting on a couch with the baby’s sister, who was 6 or 7 at the time, Geiger said. The mother was outside for about 17 minutes. Harp also came outside and then the baby’s sister.
Geiger said the baby’s sister told Teron Mathis, “Momma, something’s wrong with sissy.” The mother ran back inside and found the baby lying unresponsive on the couch.
The infant suffered a “terrible skull fracture,” Geiger said. Fort Valley police, in their investigation, ruled out the mother, father and two siblings before charging Harp with murder, Geiger told jurors.
But Waller told jurors that not only did the state have to prove that Harp murdered the baby, but that prosecutors also had to disprove that the death was not the result of an accidental fall, Waller said, such as from a bed or from a 9-foot-high jungle gym when being held by another child. Waller told jurors that the symptoms from such a fall could take hours and even days to manifest.
Dr. Jamie Rollins, the treating physician at The Children’s Hospital, testified that the type of injuries sustained by the baby are not typical of accidental falls and that the symptoms of the injuries would have manifested the same day incurred.
Dr. Melissa Sims, a GBI forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, testified that the baby’s injuries were not consistent with an accidental fall. Such injuries would be the result of having been inflicted, or sustained in a motor vehicle crash, or from fall of 15 to 30 feet Sims told jurors.
Testimony is expected to resume today.