Girlfriend of man accused in baby’s death testifies

DOVER — The great aunt of a baby who suffered fatal injuries in a Harrington home three years ago testified Thursday that she was truthful during police interviews that followed, but didn’t provide all the details she could have.

The woman was questioned for nearly two hours Thursday morning in the Superior Court trial of James E. Hammond, accused of inflicting wounds that brought the death of visiting 7-month-old Aubri N. Thompson of Dover on Feb. 28, 2014.

The infant was pronounced dead just over an hour after the woman and her boyfriend Mr. Hammond bought the unresponsive child to the Milford Memorial Hospital Emergency Room. A medical examination later determined that the death was caused by blunt force trauma to the head via homicide.

At some point, according to the woman, Mr. Hammond told her not to talk about a fall the baby had supposedly taken from a crib the day before.

“I was scared to tell what happened,” she testified.

Also, the woman said she didn’t initially tell police that the defendant had allegedly texted her instructions for the three children at home not to speak about the incident as well.

“I told them he doesn’t want you to say anything about (her) falling but tell the truth,” the woman testified, claiming the answered the questions asked honestly.

James. E. Hammond

The baby stayed at the home from Tuesday to Friday as her parents took a vacation cruise. The child was suffering from a cold that prevented her from joining her parents, according to earlier testimony.

Mr. Hammond is charged with first-degree murder by abuse or neglect and is facing 15 years to life in prison if convicted. On Monday, he declined to plead guilty to a second-degree offense and receive a 10-year prison sentence.

The day after Aubri arrived at the home in the 200 block of Commerce Street, the woman said she noticed red marks on the baby’s cheeks that eventually transitioned into bruises. She testified to believing that a mark on her nose was caused by falling on a toy while playing on the floor.

Also, the woman said Mr. Hammond called her Thursday to report that a baby had fallen from the crib while she was taking the children to the doctor. She testified to assuming the couple’s 7-month-old child also staying at the home was the one who fell, not a less mobile Aubri.

By Friday, however, the woman said Aubri was having trouble breathing and her self-described motherly instinct prompted a trip to the hospital. She remembered Mr. Hammond questioning if they should wait a couple hours at home or go in the next day if needed.

The woman drove the baby to Milford Memorial Hospital as Mr. Hammond rode in the back seat during an approximately 15 to 20 minute trip. She remembered asking her boyfriend — who her children referred to as their stepfather earlier in the trial — if Aubri was breathing, but said her overall condition wasn’t discussed.

On a hospital admission form, the woman noted the child had congestion and was not keeping food down, but didn’t indicate breathing trouble or bruises. Medical personnel called Harrington Police to the scene and the Delaware State Police were called in to investigate.

The woman testified that Aubri couldn’t crawl or sit up at the time, but could roll over or stay up when propped up, and move forward on her elbows.

According to testimony, Mr. Hammond slept on the couch next to Aubri in a baby chair on the nights she stayed at the home. The woman slept in the couple’s bedroom with the other infant, while three older children slept upstairs. She reported that the defendant was helpful and cooperative in assisting with caring for Aubri.

The late baby’s parents did not attend the opening days of the trial.

Deputy Attorneys General Stephen R. Welch and Stephen E. Smith are prosecuting the case, with attorney P. Scott Wilson representing Mr. Hammond. Resident Judge William L. Witham Jr. is overseeing the proceedings.

The trial being heard by a 10-woman, 6-man jury is scheduled to continue into next week.

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