Shaken baby murder trial starts Monday

WARNER ROBINS -- A Centerville father charged with murder in the alleged “violent shaking” of his 6-week-old daughter is expected to go on trial Monday in Houston County Superior Court.

Andre S. Martin, 30, was indicted on charges of malice murder, felony murder, cruelty to children, aggravated battery and aggravated assault in the Nov. 16, 2009, incident.

Martin, who is free on a $15,000 bond pending trial, faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted of murder.

Julia C. Bowen, an assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, is expected to argue the death of Kindall Martin was the result of shaken baby syndrome.

Bernadette C. Crucilla, a Macon attorney representing Andre Martin, is expected to argue the child died of natural causes.

“My client has actively professed his innocence,” Crucilla said. “We believe we have sufficient proof to show that he is innocent of this crime.”

Bowen said, “I think the facts are going to show what the truth is.”

Based on court records, Crucilla also is expected to argue that shaken baby syndrome is scientifically unreliable. Bowen is expected to argue it is a valid and scientific diagnosis.

Both attorneys were reluctant to elaborate on their cases before trial. However, the Houston County Superior Court file on the case included motions in which expected arguments were stated.

According to a prosecution motion, the infant and a then-3-year-old sibling were left in Martin’s care while his wife went to run errands and volunteer at her church.

Although the 6-week-old girl had a cold, she was otherwise healthy, the court document stated.

A few hours later, Martin called his wife to tell her the baby had stopped breathing. He told his sister, Ranslah Martin Hurst, that the child woke up from her nap crying, the document stated.

“After (Martin) picked up the child, the child began vomiting from the nose and mouth and then went limp,” the document stated.

Martin called 911, the child was taken first to Houston Medical Center and then to The Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon. The infant died less than 24 hours later, the document stated.

The medical examiner determined the cause of death was “violent shaking,” and the manner of death was ruled a homicide, the document stated.

“Based on the medical examiner’s training and experience, the brain injuries he observed were consistent with extensive trauma indicative of a motor vehicle accident or severe beating,” the document stated.

However, the defense countered in its own motion that the baby died of natural causes related in part to pneumonia.

“Although the state asserts shaken baby syndrome as the cause of death of this child, a second autopsy was conducted by (defense) experts which indicates that due to the extremely poor health of the infant, which began at birth, that the cause of death was natural in nature,” the defense document stated.

Other experts concluded the infant’s death was due to natural causes, the document stated. The defense also consulted with The Innocence Project in Seattle. The nonprofit works to exonerate those who have been wrongfully convicted by using DNA testing and to reform the criminal justice system to prevent future wrongful convictions.

“There are natural and viable reasons for all of the child’s symptoms in this case,” the document stated. “Shaken baby syndrome is only an explanation for the symptoms in an otherwise healthy child,” the document stated. “The child here was not otherwise healthy. There is evidence she had RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), which (turned into) pneumonia.”

RSV is a virus that causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract.

Also included in the court file were letters of support from Dawn and Marvin Jones of Warner Robins. Marvin Jones and Martin served together as volunteer coaches for the Warner Robins Recreation Department.

“Andre is a man that is extremely dedicated to his family, incredibly talented and amazingly patient,” Marvin Jones wrote in his letter. Dawn Jones wrote a separate letter and described Martin as a “loving, responsive and accountable husband, parent and coach.”

The anticipated weeklong trial before Judge Katherine K. Lumsden is expected to be marked by testimony from a host of medical professionals and experts for both the prosecution and the defense.

Jury selection is expected Monday.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.