FORT VALLEY — In the Peach County trial of a Reynolds woman accused of the murder of her infant niece, a forensic pathologist testified Thursday that the baby’s injuries were most likely from an accidental fall.
Lashunika Aquinde Harp, 24, was indicted on a charge of murder in the 2008 death of 6-month-old Ryauna Mathis of Fort Valley.
Harp was inside the Fort Valley apartment of her sister with her baby niece while her sister was outside talking with their mother the afternoon of Sept. 24, 2008.
The older sister of the baby also was inside the home.
The mother came back inside after about 17 minutes and found the baby unresponsive.
The baby died two days later at The Children’s Hospital at The Medical Center of Central Georgia from blunt force trauma.
The defense argument is that Harp is not guilty and that the lethal skull fracture and related injuries to the baby were the result of an accidental fall when Harp was not present.
Dr. Peter J. Stephens of Burnsville, N.C., told jurors that an accidental fall from 2 to 3 feet was “ample” to cause the sort of injuries suffered by the baby.
Moreover, Stephens testified that the complex skull fracture suffered by the infant was more likely to be accidental than inflicted.
He also testified that symptoms of the injury could be delayed for 24 hours and even as long as 72 hours.
From his review of the case, including an allegation that the infant was dropped at the apartment complex playground, Stephens told jurors that the most probable cause of the baby’s fatal injuries was an accidental fall from the playground’s jungle gym, also referred to during testimony as monkey bars.
Stephens also testified that the injuries could also be consistent with an accidental fall from a bed.
Stephens’ testimony was in stark contrast to testimony given earlier this week by other medical personnel who told jurors 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.
Also on Thursday, Kevin War, the former Peach County Department of Family and Children Services investigator who was assigned to the baby’s death, testified that the baby’s 7-year-old sister asked him questions about what would happen if the baby had been dropped accidentally.
War, now a teacher, said the sibling asked him the questions out of the blue as he drove her to the Crescent House, a Medical Center facility for child abuse victims, to talk with a forensic interviewer.
War said he assured the child she would not get in trouble as he talked with her.
The little girl said she was only asking and War testified he did not believe she was lying.
Demetria Hillsman, who lives in the same apartment complex, testified Thursday that she did not remember whether she saw the baby fall from the monkey bars or jungle gym at the playground at the back of the apartment complex.
She also testified that she did not remember talking to a Fort Valley police officer, public defense attorneys representing Harp or an investigator for the public defender’s office.
Carey Flanders, the investigator for the defense, testified Hillsman told him that she saw two children on the monkey bars with the infant and that the infant was dropped.
Flanders testified that Hillsman identified the baby’s sister as one of the children she saw with the baby.
Fort Valley police Capt. Lawrence Spurgeon testified that Hillsman told him Thursday morning before court that she could not remember if a baby fell off the jungle gym because it was “so long ago.”
Spurgeon, head of investigations, previously testified that Hillsman’s 2008 claim to a Fort Valley police officer of seeing the 14-year-old brother holding the baby from the monkey bars and dropping the baby was discounted as untrue.
The trial is expected to continue today before Judge S. Phillip Brown and may continue into Saturday.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.