Accused baby killer rejects plea offer

 

DOVER — A 48-year-old Harrington man rejected a plea offer to a lesser offense in the death of a 7-month-old child Monday afternoon.

A trial was scheduled to begin today at 9 a.m.

James E. Hammond is facing a first-degree murder by abuse or neglect charge regarding the death of infant Aubri N. Thompson while in his care on Feb. 28, 2014.

He faces 15 years to life in prison if convicted by a jury that was selected after the plea deal was declined.

The Delaware Department of Justice offered Mr. Hammond, a contractor, an opportunity to plead guilty to second-degree murder by abuse or neglect, which would have brought a 10-year sentence that likely reduced for good time served credit. Level III and II probation would follow.

Questioned by Resident William L. Witham Jr., the defendant said he fully understood the ramifications of his decision.

“He’s aware of the risk,” Mr. Hammond’s attorney P. Scott Wilson said.

Speaking before the Court during a motion discussion, Deputy Attorney General Stephen E. Smith indicated that Mr. Hammond’s state of mind at the time of the alleged incident will be key a key to the prosecution’s case. Deputy Attorney General Stephen R. Welch is serving as co-counsel.

Lawyers discussed with the Court how to advise potential jurors about photos of the late child and her bruises, which could possibly affect their ability to be impartial if selected to the 16-member panel.

James. E. Hammond

The trial was scheduled to potentially run until Nov. 17.

Mr. Hammond was arrested on March 14, 2014, following investigation to the child’s death at his residence in the 200 block of Commerce Street, the Delaware State Police said at the time. A medical examiner’s report determined the death was caused by blunt force trauma.

Investigators said they were told that the baby had fallen from a crib to the floor while Mr. Hammond was watching her for 3 1/2 hours. The child’s parents were out of state on vacation at the time.

The baby was pronounced dead at the Milford Memorial Hospital Emergency Room the day after she was injured, authorities said. The child was unresponsive when Mr. Hammond and her aunt brought her to the hospital, where she died just over an hour later, according to State Police.

Five previous trial dates have been delayed, beginning on May 5, 2015. Mr. Hammond was indicted on May 5, 2014.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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