Mood of girl trial's focus

Defense witnesses describe unemotional child in day care

Provider charged in death

Prosecution closes with mother, video depicting lively baby

North Laurel

March 02, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Defense witnesses in the murder trial of North Laurel day care provider Kathleen A. Butcher painted a picture of 15-month-old Alexa Shearer as an unemotional, unresponsive baby - even as prosecutors offered a videotape that showed a smiling, shrieking child roaming around her house two days before she went into cardiac arrest.

The witnesses were among the first to testify for the defense yesterday. The prosecution rested at lunchtime after offering one final witness - Alexa's mother, Victoria Shearer - and the videotape.

In 6 1/2 days of testimony, prosecutors built their case against Butcher, 37, without offering a detailed scenario of the events that took place at Butcher's house Nov. 16, 1999, the day the child stopped breathing. Alexa was declared brain dead two days later; a medical examiner determined that she had died of blunt force head trauma caused by shaking and impact.

Instead, prosecutors built their case around the testimony of experts, who said that Alexa's injuries were so severe that she would have been "symptomatic" immediately after they were inflicted. The child would not have acted normally after she was hurt, prosecution experts said - playing and eating as Butcher told police she had up to the time she stopped breathing.

Defense attorneys have questioned the reliability of the autopsy and suggested alternative theories about the timing and cause of the injuries, including illness and abuse at the hands of someone other than Butcher. They also have questioned the detectives' decision not to consider the parents as suspects. The defense attorneys are expected to offer their own experts over the next few days.

The half-hour videotape offered the jury a first glimpse of Alexa playing with toys, pulling herself up and down steps and crawling around in her Halloween costume - as a chili pepper - in different segments between Sept. 1 and Nov. 14, 1999, two days before she was hospitalized.

Victoria Shearer said she shot the last bit of tape as she watched her daughters, Alexa and Megan, 7, playing and hugging because she realized that the 15-month-old would be walking soon, and it might be her last tape of the little girl crawling.

"She had a very bright spirit. She would just light up the whole room," Victoria Shearer said, her voice shaking, before the tape played. "She was just our joy."

As the tape played, jurors laughed at the little girl's shrieks. Their own sniffling later mingled with the tears of Alexa's family. Butcher dabbed at her eyes and nose with a tissue.

Defense witnesses portrayed a different picture of the girl.

Alexa didn't have a big grin for her father when he picked her up, said Yvette McNeill, a day care provider who took care of Alexa in late June and early July 1999 when Butcher was away.

"She didn't do much," McNeill said.

Sandy Aleksei, whose son was in Butcher's care, said Alexa showed no emotions. "She didn't really care if she had a toy to interact with," Aleksei said. "She basically just sat and stared."

When Alexa's father, Kevin Shearer, picked her up from day care, he didn't hug her or kiss her, and Alexa showed no emotions toward him, Aleksei said. Kevin Shearer would put her on his side and leave, she said.

Assistant State's Attorney Kim Oldham noted Alexa's actions on the video and asked if that would be "inconsistent" with the girl Aleksei saw.

"Yes," Aleksei said each time.

Testimony is expected to resume this morning.

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