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The child's father, Aaron Edwards, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse and neglect in relation to her death. The trial is ongoing.
MATT GENTRY| The Roanoke Times
Aaron Edwards (center) looks on as attorneys discuss his case in Giles County Court in Pearisburg on Friday.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
PEARISBURG — After performing the autopsy on 7-month-old Ella Dawn Edwards in March 2011, medical examiner Gayle Suzuki said she determined that the child died from abusive head trauma.
Suzuki testified Tuesday that Ella had an “impact-type injury,” consistent with her head being slammed onto a surface, causing her brain to bounce and subsequently swell.
Ella’s father, Aaron Edwards, 26, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse and neglect in relation to her death. During the third day of the trial on Tuesday in Giles County Circuit Court, the prosecution finished calling all of its scheduled witnesses .
According to testimony, EMS personnel were called to a residence in Rich Creek on March 1, 2011. When they arrived, they found Ella breathing but limp and unresponsive. Ella was transported to Carilion Giles Memorial Hospital and then flown to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where she underwent surgery to relieve pressure from swelling in her brain and remained on life support for several days before dying on March 8, 2011.
Edwards’ lawyer, Chris Tuck, has said that Ella lived in a home with her parents, Aaron and Karen Edwards, and her older brother who was a toddler at the time. The parents usually took turns checking on the children throughout the night, Tuck said. A bout 3:30 a.m. March 1, 2011, Aaron Edwards made Ella a bottle and placed her in a play pen with pillows and a blanket in the living room, according to testimony.
Edwards went back to sleep in another room and woke up at 6:30 a.m. to go to his job as a tree cutter, according to testimony. He then noticed that Ella was unresponsive, woke his wife and called 911. Edwards was the only person who checked on Ella between 3:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., according to testimony.
A key factor with which the jury will have to deal is when Ella received her injuries. Several of the prosecution’s witnesses who treated Ella have testified that her injuries would have had to occur around the time period that she was found unresponsive – when Edwards was the sole caretaker.
Suzuki, an assistant chief medical examiner for the state department of health, testified Tuesday that after being injured, there would not be a period of lucidity. When Edwards checked on Ella at about 3:30 a.m., she appeared fine, was able to take a bottle and made babbling noises, according to testimony. If she had already been injured, Ella would not have been able to do those things and would have had some sort of altered mental status, Suzuki said.
“This impact that killed her … was at the time, or around the time, she was found unresponsive,” Suzuki testified.
Virginia Powel , a pediatric intensive care physician who examined Ella in Roanoke, agreed, testifying that Ella would not have appeared normal at 3:30 a.m. if she had received a head injury.
However, Michael Donato, who was the attending physician in the emergency room at Carilion Giles Memorial Hospital on March 1, 2011, testified that the injury could have occurred hours or days before Ella was found unresponsive.
According to testimony, Ella also had retinal hemorrhages, bruising on the left side of her face, bruising on her chest and back, and rib fractures that could have occurred up to three weeks prior.
John Facciani, a pediatric ophthalmologist who examined Ella in Roanoke, ruled out during his testimony Monday many other possible scenarios that could have caused Ella’s retinal hemorrhages, and said the injuries were consistent with abusive head trauma, also referred to as “shaken baby syndrome.”
The force required to cause the subdural bleeding that was present in Ella’s brain is typically seen as a result of high-speed motor vehicle crashes, extreme or forceful shaking or being hit in the head with a baseball bat, Powel said.
Giles County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bobby Lilly presented two autopsy photographs to Suzuki while she was on the stand Tuesday. Tuck objected, and after the jury was instructed to leave the courtroom, Tuck told Judge Colin Gibb that the photographs were inflammatory because they would make jurors “cringe” and create a situation where it would be “hard to be objective.” The photographs are the “kind of photos that stay with you for years,” Tuck said.
One photograph, of Ella’s chest, provides a better look at her ribs after her organs had been removed. The other is of Ella’s brain, which Suzuki later described as “mush .”
Gibb asked to see the pictures and said he had trouble looking at them.
“They are pretty gruesome,” Gibb said. “Gruesome but probably necessary from the commonwealth’s standpoint.”
Gibb allowed the photos to become evidence. They were not shown to the jury but will be available to jurors once deliberations begin.
Tuck said in his opening statement that Ella was a sickly child, born with a hole in her heart and later discovered to have a vitamin D deficiency, which could account for easily broken or fractured bones. But all of the medical professionals who testified for the prosecution said Ella’s medical issues could not have caused her injuries.
Lt. Thomas Gautier with the Giles County Sheriff’s Office testified Tuesday that Edwards told police his “theory” was that Ella’s injuries were caused by her hitting her head a few days prior while bouncing in a play chair.
The prosecution’s medical professional witnesses testified that the chair would not have created enough force to cause Ella’s injuries — “unless the bouncy seat fell out of a four-story window,” Facciani added.
While the jury was out of the courtroom, Tuck asked Gautier questions about Karen Edwards’ involvement. Gautier testified that Karen Edwards told Aaron Edwards to stop talking to police and to get an attorney. She was “irate” and left the hospital and did not return for some time, while Aaron Edwards spoke with doctors and police, Gautier said. Gibb did not allow Gautier’s testimony about Karen Edwards’ behavior to be presented to the jury.
Karen Edwards is facing a charge of child abuse and neglect. She is scheduled to have a two-day jury trial beginning on Aug. 28, according to online records. She will most likely be invoking the Fifth Amendment when called to testify by Tuck because of her ongoing criminal matter, according to discussion between the lawyers and the judge while the jury was out of the courtroom.
Tuck will begin calling witnesses today . He has said there is no evidence that his client did anything to harm Ella.
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