No verdict reached on child abuse charge Scalded girl's mother faces Feb. retrial after hung jury

December 11, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

A 20-year-old Howard County woman accused of placing her 15-month-old daughter in a tub of scalding water will be retried in February after a jury failed to reach a verdict yesterday on two charges.

The jury ended seven hours of deliberation in Howard County Circuit Court at -1 a.m. with no verdict on charges of child abuse and second-degree assault against Mary V. Cabassa of the 8500 block of Storch Woods Drive in Savage.

The 12-member jury found Cabassa not guilty on first-degree assault charges but guilty of reckless endangerment. She will be sentenced in February and faces up to five years in prison. She will be retried Feb. 16 on the charges jurors could not agree on.

Visitations limited

Cabassa, who is pregnant with a second child, was ordered to attend child rearing and anger management classes for two months and is not allowed to visit her 2-year-old daughter, Skylar Nestar, without supervision. Skylar is in a foster home.

The county's Department of Social Services will make unexpected visits to Cabassa's apartment, according to Judge Lenore R. Gelfman.

The two-day trial included dramatic testimony from police detectives, firefighters and medical experts from the burn unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, who described the second- and third-degree burns Skylar suffered to her legs, groin, back and feet Nov. 11, 1997, from water estimated to be 135 degrees.

Punishment alleged

Prosecutor Cindy Johnson tried to paint Cabassa as a young mother who became agitated with her daughter for following her around the apartment and punished the child by holding her in the scalding water.

In her closing arguments Wednesday, Johnson maintained that Cabassa gave differing accounts of Skylar's burns.

Once, Johnson said, Cabassa told a 911 operator that she had just finished bathing. Minutes later, she claimed to have been cleaning stains from the tub with boiling water and bleach. On the 911 tapes, Skylar is heard screaming uncontrollably as Cabassa tries to calm her.

'Playing on emotions'

Cabassa's attorney, Sam Truette, argued that Johnson was "playing on the emotions" of the case. Truette called no witnesses, and Cabassa waived her right to testify.

Truette characterized Skylar's burns as an accident.

He criticized one of the state's key witnesses, a social worker at Johns Hopkins who specializes in treating victims of burns, for drawing a conclusion without knowing the temperature of the water, the height of the tub and the child's mobility. Without this evidence, Truette said in his closing statements, social worker Gerrie Stancik gave a "guess" on how Skylar received the burns.

Pub Date: 12/11/98

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