BELFAST, Maine — A calm, composed Miranda Hopkins stepped up to the witness stand for the first time Friday during the trial in which she faces a manslaughter charge for allegedly killing her 7-week-old son, Jaxson.
On a screen in the Belfast courtroom, Hopkins’ attorney, Christopher MacLean, flashed photographs taken in the cluttered trailer in Troy that was home to Hopkins and her three sons.
— A birthday card she made for one of her two older sons.
— A Mother’s Day card she received from the other.
— The “pride wall” where she posts the colorful scribbles that her two living sons made at school.
— Four Christmas stockings, each with a name.
— A deceased infant’s snowsuit, which he only got to wear twice before he was killed, hanging on a door.
Other images reflected a hectic, challenging life at home with two severely autistic young children, one of whom Hopkins believes killed Jaxson.
—The padlocks on the cupboard and fridge to keep the 6-year-old from grabbing the 5-pound bag of flour and tossing it around the room.
— The wooden draw bar, like one you’d see at the gate of a medieval castle, across the front door to prevent the kids from getting out and wandering.
“They were a major flight risk,” Hopkins said.
After Hopkins’ arrest, the two boys were sent to live with a family member and transferred to new schools.
On Jan. 12, Hopkins told police that she rolled over in bed to discover the cold, lifeless body of her infant son, Jaxson. She insisted that she didn’t know what happened to the child, but said one of her older sons — who are ages 6 and 8 and both “profoundly autistic” — must have somehow entered the room past a 3-foot-tall baby gate and beaten Jaxson to death without her seeing or hearing anything.
Neither of the boys is verbal, and they can only communicate through grunts, honks, guttural noises and some hand motions. One often makes a loud “dededede” noise when frustrated or seeking attention. The other makes an “eeeeee” sound.
Police tried unsuccessfully to interview the 8-year-old, who can communicate using a tablet application, but typically only to express “wants and needs.”
The defense called several family members, friends and teachers to the stand on Friday, the trial’s fourth day, primarily asking questions about how the two older boys behaved at home and at school.
Dylan Hopkins, Miranda’s brother, said the 6-year-old boy was “above and beyond aggressive with my child on several occasions.” He said those incidents ranged from pushing and hair pulling to “grinding fists” into his child’s head.
Several special education teachers who had worked with the boys in the past said they struggled to stay on task and sometimes lashed out when frustrated by a task. The 6-year-old derived enjoyment from throwing objects and watching the leaves blow on the trees outside, a witness testified.
The oldest boy becomes fixated on his tablet and other technology, but struggles to engage with or pay attention to other people, according to testimony.
When frustrated, the younger boy would sometimes push away from the table, fall to the ground and start kicking and vocalizing. Teachers then had to help pick him up to get him refocused.
The older boy becomes troubled when he hears his younger brother cry, sometimes leading to hitting or pushing to try to stop the crying, according to teachers. He also became upset by changes in routine, and showed some obsessive tendencies, such as entering a room in a certain way.
Until Friday, Hopkins had been highly emotional during court proceedings, looking into her lap or holding her head in her hands and crying as recordings of the 911 call and police interviews were played. She was more composed on Friday, leading up to her testimony.
Hopkins is expected to take the stand again when court resumes at 12:30 p.m. Monday. She’s expected to present a version of what happened that night that differs widely from what she originally told investigators. She reportedly called detectives after her arrest to change her story, saying she’d left the infant alone in the living room on the night he was killed, not in her bed.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.