Jurors unsure about responsibility of mother, who didn't testify in trial for battering, murder

Father acquitted in baby's death

February 08, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

A father accused of battering and shaking to death his baby girl was acquitted yesterday by jurors who said they couldn't be sure whether the mother might have been responsible.

Acurtiss Grimes, 26, was charged with first-degree murder, child abuse and other counts in the June 2004 death of his 2-month-old daughter, Kaitlyn. Grimes and the baby's mother, Kristina Bailin, 27, told police they were the only adults home when Kaitlyn stopped breathing. Bailin was not charged in the case.

Medical evidence presented at the Baltimore Circuit Court trial showed the baby had bruises and broken ribs. There also were signs the baby had been shaken to death.

Bailin and Grimes told police that Grimes shook the baby hard to revive her, but medical experts called by prosecutors said Grimes had likely shaken the baby before she stopped breathing.

Throughout Grimes' trial, jurors raised questions about Bailin, referring to her in at least two notes to the judge. Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys called Bailin to testify, though both sides listed her as a potential witness.

"You have two parents and one abused child," jury foreman Berkeley Ghee said in an interview after announcing the not-guilty verdicts. "You can't make a judgment only hearing one side of the story.

"It's almost like they were hiding the mother," Ghee said. "Why?"

Prosecutors decided not to have Bailin testify, in part because "we have to be sensitive how vulnerable any witness can be on the witness stand," said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office.

As a prosecution witness, Bailin would have "been subjected to malicious and undeserved cross-examination" by the defense, Burns said. She added that the prosecutor, Assistant State's Attorney Mary-Ann Burkhart, is a national expert on how to prosecute shaken-baby syndrome cases.

Kenneth W. Ravenell, Grimes' attorney, said Bailin spoke to his office many times over the past 2 1/2 years.

At times, Bailin told the attorneys she was convinced that Grimes was not guilty and that her baby had died of meningitis or another disease -- statements she also made to a Sun reporter in an interview in April 2005.

Given those statements, Ravenell said, prosecutors had no incentive to call Bailin to the stand.

"They realized she was a loose cannon, and they would not be able to control her," he said. "We would have had the jury seriously believing she committed the crime, just as we did without her testimony."

Bailin was scheduled as a defense witness. Ravenell and defense attorney Julie M. Reamy even sought and received from the judge a "body attachment," a court-order that Bailin be brought to court, in handcuffs if necessary.

On Monday, Circuit Judge Roger W. Brown ruled that Bailin could not be questioned about her mental health, and the defense attorneys abandoned their plans to call her.

But Bailin's name came up repeatedly at the trial. One defense witness, Grimes' mother, testified that Bailin had told her she suffered from post-partum depression and had thoughts of harming her baby girl.

Other jurors echoed their foreman's frustrations about the mother's absence.

"It was an emotional case," said juror Katy Sullivan. "We all feel like there was a history of abuse, but there was not enough evidence showing what person did it."

The history of abuse in the Grimes family included not just Kaitlyn, who had new and partially healed rib fractures when she died, but also the baby's older brother.

In January 2003, Baltimore County police and child protective services investigated the near-death of Grimes and Bailin's son, who was then 5 months old. The boy stopped breathing and turned blue, according to police reports, and he, too, had broken ribs.

A county prosecutor said later that no charges could be filed because several people had access to the baby when he was injured. The boy was returned to his parents, who then moved to the city and had another baby, Kaitlyn.

Because of the rules of evidence, Grimes' jurors did not hear about the earlier abuse allegation. They also did not hear about another pending criminal case against him.

Grimes is accused of punching and kicking a 76-year-old man unconscious after a traffic accident in December 2003 in Northeast Baltimore.

Prosecutors said yesterday that they plan to pursue that first-degree assault case, which had been delayed until after the murder trial.

Bailin watched closing arguments and was in court yesterday when the jury reached its decision.

Upon hearing the not-guilty verdicts, Bailin, who is pregnant, rushed out of the courtroom in tears.


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