BELFAST, Maine — A Waldo County jury found a Troy mother guilty of manslaughter in the death of her 7-week-old son after a seven-day trial that stretched into Tuesday night.
A Belfast police officer led Miranda Hopkins, 32, out the back entrance of Waldo County Superior Court and into a waiting police vehicle minutes after the ruling came down. She’s expected to spend the night in Waldo County Jail before posting $50,000 cash bail or $100,000 surety in the near future, according to her attorney.
Hopkins will be sentenced on Dec.13, though that date could be changed.
As she sat down in the police vehicle, family and friends shouted from the sidewalk nearby, “We love you and we’ll see you tomorrow.”
“We know she didn’t do this,” Katherine Courchene, a friend of Hopkins for the past 16 years, said after the trial. “We’re pretty upset, she’s always been a great mother.”
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” and nonverbal — must have somehow entered the room past a 3-foot-tall baby gate and beaten Jaxson to death without her seeing or hearing anything.
Police arrested her after several interviews and charged her with murder, but a grand jury indicted her on the lesser charge of manslaughter.
After about four hours of deliberation Tuesday afternoon, members of the 12-person jury apparently weren’t confident they could reach a unanimous decision that day. Around 4:40 p.m., they knocked on the door to their small deliberation room and handed the bailiff a note saying that they were split.
Superior Court Justice Robert Murray called out the jurors and told them he wasn’t surprised they didn’t have a verdict after just a few hours, and that their struggles were “certainly not unusual” given the type of case.
He send the jurors back to the deliberation room with instructions to keep working, and said the court would bring them food if needed. A few minutes later, they knocked on the door again and handed the bailiff a note asking for pizza. The court ordered the food, but released the jurors until it arrived around 6:45 p.m.
About an hour after they got back to work, they knocked on the door again and passed out a note saying they had a verdict — guilty. The jury deliberated for about six hours.
Manslaughter is a Class A crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said the state hasn’t yet determined how long a prison term it would seek, but defense attorney Christopher MacLean said he’d be requesting a lenient sentence.
Prosecutors argued that Hopkins was under stress after caring for two autistic sons and an infant. While she may have normally been a good mother, she made a “bad choice” on that night when Jaxson wouldn’t stop crying and shook and beat the infant. Hopkins admitted to having five to seven shots of whiskey earlier in the evening, as well as smoking marijuana and taking Benadryl.
After her arrest, Hopkins told detectives she wanted to “come clean,” and relayed a story that differed from the one she shared originally. She said she passed out in her older sons’ bedroom while Jaxson was asleep alone in his bouncy chair in the cluttered trailer’s living room. She later got up to get an ice pack and went back to her own room at the other end of the trailer. When she woke up the next morning, Jaxson was dead next to her.
The defense called several of Hopkins’ family members and friends, as well as special education teachers who worked with the older boys in the past, to the stand. Several of them testified that the boys were sometimes aggressive with other children and each other.
The state argued that the extensive injuries Jaxson suffered — head to toe bruises, a fractured skull, broken arm, broken ribs and bleeding around the spinal column, among others — were most likely caused by squeezing and shaking the infant and knocking his head against a hard surface. Zainea also cast doubt on Hopkins’ version of events that night.
MacLean said he hasn’t decided whether to appeal the verdict to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, a step that would come after sentencing.
“She didn’t kill her baby,” MacLean said. “She passed a polygraph exam, but the jury wasn’t allowed to hear about that.”
The defense tried to admit the polygraph results in the days leading up to the trial, but Murray denied the request because such results are seldom considered viable evidence in courts.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.
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