BELFAST, Maine — As the frantic 911 call played over the speakers at Waldo County Superior Court during the first day of her trial Tuesday, Miranda Hopkins, charged with manslaughter in the death of her 7-week-old son, put her head in her hands and cried.
Her attorneys each placed a hand on her back in an attempt to comfort her.
State prosecutors are attempting to convince jurors that Hopkins, 32, of Troy caused the death of her infant son, Jaxson, in January, through recklessness or criminal negligence. Hopkins told investigators that she believes one of her two older sons, ages 6 and 8, must have killed the infant while she was asleep without her noticing.
“Parents get stressed, parents get tired,” Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea told a group of 15 jurors, nine men and six women, who will decide the case. When the parent doesn’t have rest or time away, “bad things can happen,” she added.
When Hopkins awoke inside the cluttered, messy trailer she shared with her three sons early on the morning of Jan. 12, she reached over and touched the cold, lifeless body of her youngest son.
In the call to a 911 dispatcher in Waldo County, Hopkins was frantic, shouting and sobbing unintelligibly at times. The dispatcher repeatedly had to ask Hopkins to repeat herself and guided her through CPR for several minutes until a deputy arrived and took over. A few minutes later, volunteer medics arrived and, after their efforts to revive the baby failed, Jaxson was pronounced dead.
Hopkins told the dispatcher she didn’t know how it happened, and that it must have been one of her other sons.
Hopkins’ two older boys are both “profoundly autistic and nonverbal,” according to both attorneys. They communicate mostly through grunts and nonverbal signals, though the oldest boy can communicate to some extent using a tablet computer program.
Jaxson’s autopsy revealed he suffered 15 rib fractures, a pair of fractures in his upper-right arm, as well as skull fractures caused by blunt force trauma.
“Significant force was exerted to cause those injuries, the type of foce you’d see in an automobile crash,” Zainea said.
Zainea stressed that manslaughter doesn’t require the state to prove motive. Police originally charged Hopkins with murder, but a grand jury indicted her on the lesser count of manslaughter, a Class A crime that comes with a maximum sentence of 30 years.
On Tuesday, the first day of a trial that could stretch into next week, prosecutors played the audio from the 911 call; questioned witnesses including the dispatcher and several first responders; examined photos of the trailer’s unkempt interior, and listened to audio of Hopkins’ first interview with a Maine State Police investigator and Waldo County deputy.
During the interview with Maine State Police Detective Sgt. Jason Richards, Hopkins is calmer, but still tearful, and says one of her boys, likely the oldest, managed to get over the safety gate in her bedroom doorway, and somehow jumped on or hurt Jaxson before leaving the room without her seeing, hearing or feeling anything.
“Must’ve been [the oldest son], but he loved that baby so much,” Hopkins told investigators. “It’s a bad dream, it’s got to be a bad dream. I want to wake up.”
Hopkins’ attorneys are expected to present a different version of events from that night.
Originally, Hopkins told police the infant co-slept with her that night, as she always did.
But after her arrest, she called a detective and changed her story to say that she hadn’t followed her typical routine and had left the infant in his baby seat on a chair in the living room that night. She woke later that night to find the baby dead in her bed and one of her two sons asleep on the living room couch, according to her defense attorney, Christopher MacLean. She said she lied originally because she didn’t want to appear to be a bad mother, MacLean said.
Justice Robert Murray is presiding over the case. The courtroom was largely empty on the trial’s first day. The only attendees were a pair of Maine State Police officials, court employees, and several members of the media.
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