BELFAST, Maine — Attorneys representing a mother of a slain infant tried to cast doubt on who was responsible, arguing that the mother wasn’t the only person in the house capable of beating the infant to death.
The defense called its first few witnesses to testify on the trial’s third day as prosecutors rested their case in the manslaughter trial of Miranda Hopkins, who is accused of killing her 7-week-old son, Jaxson, inside the family’s cluttered trailer in Troy last January.
Hopkins has two older sons, who were ages 6 and 8 at the time of Jaxson’s death. Both shared a bedroom at the opposite end of the trailer from Hopkins’ room, where she co-slept with Jaxson. Both older boys are severely autistic and nonverbal. They communicate through noises like grunts and moans. Police tried to interview the older brother, who is capable of some communication using a tablet application, but didn’t make any headway, according to investigators.
Defense attorney Christopher MacLean hired Alex Williamson, a New York-based pathologist, to review the state medical examiner’s autopsy report. Williamson testified Thursday that he thought the autopsy and report were thorough and conducted well, but differed on how some injuries were most likely caused.
On Wednesday, Clare Bryce, the former Maine deputy medical examiner who conducted Jaxson’s autopsy, testified about the infant’s extensive injuries, including two breaks in his right arm, bruises and abrasions all over his body, broken ribs and a fractured skull. Jaxson’s cause of death was blunt force trauma, which caused multiple skull fractures in addition to his many other injuries.
The medical examiner said the rib fractures likely were caused by “squeezing” around the chest, and bleeding around the spine and in the eyes likely resulted from “rapid acceleration and deceleration,” like being shaken.
Williamson however, said he felt the widespread extent of the injuries gave the impression that the infant was beaten repeatedly on a hard surface, likely while laying on his back.
“Shaking doesn’t explain all the injuries or the extent of the injuries,” Williamson said.
The defense also tried to make the case that the two older boys could have been capable of causing the serious injuries to the infant. Both are considered obese for their age, with the 8-year-old weighing about 90 pounds. The Bangor Daily News is not identifying the children because they are juveniles and aren’t charged with any crimes.
Prosecutors wrapped up their portion of the case on Thursday, which consisted mostly of interviews with investigators and audio of police interviews with Hopkins.
Hopkins said she woke up early on the morning of Jan. 12, reached over and felt her youngest son’s cold, lifeless body. She said she didn’t remember what happened after she went to bed that night, but said one of the older boys must have climbed over or opened the 3-foot childproof gate at her bedroom door, gotten on the bed and jumped on or beaten Jaxson without her noticing anything. She believed it was most likely the oldest boy, because he was sleeping on the living room couch rather than his bed that morning.
Prosecutors believe Hopkins was overtired and frustrated after caring for a young baby and two severely disabled children, and took her aggressions out on her 7-week-old son.
During a recorded interview with a state police detective in his police cruiser, Hopkins insisted she didn’t know how her son died.
“I didn’t do this,” she said. “I lost my son, I’m not a murderer.”
“I don’t want to wake up tomorrow without him,” she added later. “I don’t want to go to sleep tonight without him.”
The defense also called two witnesses who spent part of Jan. 11 with Hopkins and her sons, one a longtime friend and the other her cousin. Both women said that nothing out of the ordinary happened that day, but that everything changed the next morning when police started asking questions and informed them that Jaxson was dead. Both women said they took a few shots of whisky with Hopkins, and that she likely had a total of five drinks that night. One woman smoked marijuana with Hopkins, who has a medicinal marijuana license, before leaving for the night.
The trial is expected to stretch into next week before the 15-member jury tries to determine whether Hopkins is guilty.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.
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