The Edmond Sun

January 31, 2013

Edmond CSI testifies in child homicide trial

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — A prosecutor said a crime scene investigator found 16 spots that could be blood or another type of bodily fluid on the walls of an Edmond apartment where a 2-year-old allegedly sustained wounds that killed him in 2009.

Testimony continues in the state’s prosecution of Rico Antwoine Berry, 28, who is charged with first-degree murder and child neglect in the death of toddler Jolen Babakhani. Berry is presumed innocent. If he is found guilty on the murder charge, he would face a sentence of life or life without parole.

Thursday morning, the eight-woman, four-man jury heard from former Edmond Police Officer John Zeigler, Emergency Medical Services Authority paramedic Kenny Waldrop and Edmond crime scene investigator Rockie Yardley.

Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Gayland Gieger, Zeigler recalled responding to a call about vandalism and looking for a suspect at 5-5:30 p.m. on Oct. 13, 2009, at the Rolling Green apartments, 400 E. Danforth Rd.

Zeigler said he heard the call on the radio about a medical situation and responded to the scene where he saw Berry and Sara Babakhani, Jolen’s mother, watching officers perform CPR on her son.

To enable the officers to work without distraction, Zeigler moved Berry and Babakhani an adequate distance away from the toddler, Zeigler said.

During a conversation, Zeigler said, he determined that Berry had been caring for Jolen while his mother was away for classes at Langston University. The mother was very upset and crying, Zeigler said. Berry’s demeanor was not normal for someone who had been a caregiver, he said.

“He was strangely indifferent to what was going on,” Zeigler said.

Trying to obtain some potentially medically useful information about the toddler, the officer asked Berry and Babakhani if Jolen had fallen in the hall or down the stairs leading down from the second story unit, had been sick or suffered any other recent trauma. Both of them said Jolen had not, Zeigler said.

Under questioning by defense attorney Mark McCormick, Zeigler acknowledged that different people react to stressful situations differently. Some might be very talkative, others quieter, McCormick argued.

“Not speaking strikes me as odd,” Zeigler said.

When Gieger asked the former officer if during his experience as an officer in similar medical situations if a caregiver had ever clammed up, Zeigler said not in his experience.

EMSA paramedic Waldrop testified he responded from West Edmond Road and Kelly to a cardiac arrest call at the apartment complex that day.

Waldrop said when he arrived the toddler was not breathing, he did not have a pulse and his heart was not pumping blood — technically, he was dead. After administering aid that included two drugs used to restart the heart, he was able to find a pulse, he said.  

Waldrop said he worked at the scene until about 6:21 p.m., when Jolen was loaded into an ambulance. At 6:39 p.m., the ambulance arrived at The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center, the nearest facility able to provide the type of care Jolen needed, the paramedic said.  

McCormick quizzed Waldrop about an issue with putting a tube down Jolen’s throat to secure an airway. When he asked if it could have been due to asthma, Waldrop said he did not hear a “wheezing” sound in Jolen’s lungs indicative of asthma. When asked about pneumonia, Waldrop said it should not be an issue with using a bag mask valve.

When Gieger asked if the life saving actions harmed the child Waldrop agreed that they did not.



CSI AT APARTMENT

Under questioning by Gieger, Yardley, a 33-year veteran with the Edmond Police Department, said he had worked about 1,500-1,700 crime scenes during that period.

On Oct. 13, 2009, Yardley responded to a child not breathing call at the Rolling Green apartments. He went to the hospital where he took photographs of the wounds on Jolen’s neck, jawline, forehead and back. Yardley also collected what Jolen was wearing, a “onesie.”  

Yardley described how the item was dried with a custom dryer to preserve any bodily fluids, including blood, that might have gotten on it. The evidence bag was then sealed to prevent contamination and sent to the OSBI lab for analysis. That included cutting material from the item potentially containing some of the preserved bodily fluid.

Gieger put on gloves, removed the toddler’s clothing from the evidence bag and showed it to Yardley and the jury. Gieger mentioned a spot on the “onesie” that he said in the form of a question could have been caused by bodily fluid, including blood.

After leaving the hospital, Yardley returned to Edmond and photographed the apartment at 1:05 a.m. The apartment had been preserved by a police officer guarding the front door, Yardley said.

Gieger had Yardley review his photographs of the interior of the two-bedroom apartment. He also reviewed his crime scene sketch.

Then Gieger introduced photographs, including close-ups, of 16 items, spots on walls including the living room Yardley said could be blood or some other bodily fluid. He took the recommended single swab of each spot, packaged them and sent them to the OSBI for analysis.

Gieger and defense attorney James Hughes used different examples to illustrate potential scenarios causing the spots on the walls. Gieger’s involved an adult holding a child that was swung through the air. Hughes’ involved two adult males and one of them punching the other.

Hughes also spent some time on an image containing a close-up of a small circular spot on a wall. Under questioning, Yardley said the shape of the spot indicated that it had come on a 90-degree trajectory before hitting the wall. Some of the other small spots in different areas were more linear in appearance.

Under questioning by Hughes, Yardley said he thoroughly examined each room from the carpeted floors to the ceiling and every item in between. Yardley said he found no potential blood or other bodily fluid except for the 16 spots.

Gieger and Hughes also dueled about the degree of bleeding that would cause such spotting.

Testimony was expected to continue Friday. Several doctors were scheduled to testify for the state. After the state rests its case, the main defense witness is expected to be the defendant.



VIGIL HONORED TODDLER

Jolen, who was born on Feb. 2, 2007, died on Oct. 15, 2009. As previously reported by The Edmond Sun, Jolen’s mother donated his organs. His heart was given to an 8-month-old boy in Chicago. There were adult candidates for his kidneys. His liver was donated to research.

At his funeral, family members shared his love and kindness with the world. “His grip on our hearts is like the warmth of a spring sun,” the family wrote in his obituary. “Boo-Boo Bear” loved playing with balls, dogs and kittens. On Oct. 28, 2009, there was a candlelight vigil at Langston University.



marks@edmondsun.com | 341-2121, ext. 108