Butcher case now in hands of jurors

Panel's 2nd day of deliberations begins at 9 a.m. today

North Laurel

March 08, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County jurors deliberated for 8 1/2 hours yesterday before adjourning for the night in the murder case against North Laurel day care provider Kathleen A. Butcher, after prosecutors and defense attorneys made closing arguments in a packed courtroom.

The jury of seven women and five men are scheduled to resume deliberations at 9 a.m. today.

Butcher is accused of killing 15-month-old Alexa Shearer of Columbia.

Howard County Circuit Court Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. sent the case to the jury just after 2 p.m. - two weeks after testimony began in what has been a highly technical case marked by conflicting medical testimony.

The judge allowed jurors to go home for the night at about 10:30 p.m., after they sent him a note saying they were tired.

Butcher is charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, child abuse and second-degree assault.

While Kane explained the intricacies of the law to the jury, an increasing flow of court watchers and family members of Alexa and of Butcher streamed into Howard County Circuit Court's largest courtroom, prompting deputies to post a "full" sign on the door.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys took 4 1/2 hours, including brief breaks, to wrap up their respective cases and to offer their theories about what caused Alexa to suffer cardiac arrest Nov. 16, 1999.

Alexa was in Butcher's care when she stopped breathing, and the girl was declared brain-dead two days later. A medical examiner determined that she died of blunt-force trauma to the head caused by shaking and impact.

In their closing arguments, prosecutors and defense attorneys focused on the testimony of medical experts, which dominated much of the trial. The timing and severity of the girl's injuries are central to the prosecution's case against Butcher.

Each side also tried to focus on the human elements of the case.

In closing, prosecutors provided, for the first time, a theory of what might have happened in Butcher's home, as Assistant State's Attorney Kim Oldham speculated that Butcher had "too much on her plate."

"Being a day care provider cannot be easy, especially when you are caring for eight children, all of whom are 5 years or younger," she said. Butcher told police she was the only adult in her Sewall Avenue home that day.

"She can only have so much patience. It only takes a moment, one moment to lose it," said Oldham.

Defense attorney Joel M. Abramson noted that Butcher had every reason to be happy the day Alexa stopped breathing - she had just announced that she was pregnant with her fourth child - and had no reason to hurt the girl. "And she continues to assert her innocence," he said.

In the end, both sides focused on the medical testimony. Both the medical examiner and a prosecution expert testified that Alexa's injuries were so severe they would have had to have been inflicted by an adult and that the child would have shown symptoms of the injuries almost immediately. In her statement, Butcher told police that Alexa was acting normally all day and ate two meals; partly-digested green beans were found in her stomach.

Abramson said that the investigation into Alexa's death, by Howard County detectives and by the medical examiner, was so sloppy that determining exactly how the girl died is impossible.

Detectives focused on Butcher to the exclusion of other suspects, including the child's parents, Abramson said. He added that investigators never considered the possibility of an infection. One defense expert said a chronic illness could have masked the symptoms of a brain injury.

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