In retrial, man found guilty in fatal beating of 3-year-old in 2002

CRIME WATCH

March 10, 2007

A Baltimore man whose earlier conviction in the killing of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter was thrown out by the state's highest court was found guilty yesterday of second-degree murder and could be sentenced to up to 60 years in prison, according to prosecutors.

A jury heard five days of testimony and deliberated four hours before finding Erik Stoddard, 26, guilty of second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and second-degree child abuse resulting in death, the state's attorney's office said. Circuit Judge Allen L. Schwait scheduled sentencing for May 9.

Calen Faith Dirubbo was found beaten to death in 2002 in her Northeast Baltimore home. Stoddard had been supervising the girl, her older brother and her cousin, 18-month-old Jasmine Pritchett. Prosecutors have said Stoddard was angry because he had been unable to toilet train the girl over several months.

Stoddard was found guilty of second-degree murder in March 2003, and a judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

But the Maryland Court of Appeals threw out the conviction in 2005, saying the trial judge had erred by allowing into evidence a statement by Jasmine, who did not take the witness stand. Jasmine's mother, Jennifer Pritchett, testified that her child's behavior changed after Calen's death, and she was afraid of strangers and loud noises.

Jennifer Pritchett was allowed to testify that Jasmine asked her, "Is Erik going to get me?" Jasmine was too young to take the witness stand.

Assistant State's Attorney Julie Drake used the statement in her closing argument, telling jurors in 2003 that it showed the child was afraid of Stoddard because she had witnessed Calen's beating.

The Court of Special Appeals upheld the conviction, but the Court of Appeals overruled, saying the statement required jurors to make too many leaps about its context.

Prosecutors had to retry the case without using the statement.

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