January 20, 2018
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Rockland father to be tried in fall

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — The trial of a Rockland man accused of killing his infant daughter has been scheduled for November, according to officials at Knox County Superior Court.

Robert E. Harford Jr., 25, has been held at the Knox County Jail since his arrest a year ago for the death of his 9-week-old daughter, Ava Harford.

Attorneys for the case met Tuesday morning at Knox County Courthouse for a pretrial settlement conference, according to court documents. Efforts Wednesday to reach Harford’s defense attorney, Steven Peterson of West Rockport, and Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea were unsuccessful.

During the police investigation before his arrest, Harford said he dropped the child on her head on Aug. 17, 2008, after picking her up from a couch. His daughter was at waist level when he dropped her on the carpeted floor, according to a police affidavit.

He told police that he called his girlfriend, the child’s mother, Kirby Gushee, 25, who told him to call 911. The ambulance took Ava Harford to Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport for evaluation. She then was taken by LifeFlight helicopter to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where she died two days later.

The baby died from blunt-force trauma to the head, according to the autopsy by the state medical examiner.

Harford later reportedly told police he had become frustrated with his daughter and had thrown her to the floor.

Peterson, his defense attorney, filed a motion in January to suppress the statements Harford made to police in a recorded interview on Aug. 20, 2008, arguing that “all or part” of them should be disregarded because he hadn’t made them voluntarily.

Although detectives assert that they read Harford his Miranda rights that day, he did not request an attorney.

According to Maine State Police Detectives Jeffrey Love and Jason Richards, after they had interviewed Harford for 2½ hours, he asked to see his mother. He met with Denise Pelletier privately in the interview room, but the recording equipment remained on, as the detectives apparently explained to Harford.

While in the room, Harford told his mother that he had not dropped the baby, as he had previously told the police, but had “thrown the child to the floor,” according to a motion filed this spring by Zainea.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm ruled in June that he would not suppress the police testimony.

“The court finds beyond a reasonable doubt that … Harford made statements to investigating officers voluntarily,” Hjelm wrote.

Harford remains at the Knox County Jail.

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