What led to infant’s death?


DOVER — There is much agreement about a 7-month-old child’s death while in the care of another family in Harrington three years ago.

That Aubri N. Thompson died from blunt force trauma injuries to the head when she couldn’t be resuscitated at Milford Memorial Hospital on Feb. 28, 2014, is not in dispute.

Defendant James E. Hammond, 48, and his girlfriend brought the baby to the emergency room in a nearly lifeless state, cold and turned blue, and the child died just over an hour later.

On Tuesday morning, however, Mr. Hammond’s attorney argued that there’s been nothing said about how Aubri’s injuries came about.

In opening statements for a Superior Court trial scheduled for two weeks, P. Scott Wilson pointed to supposedly conflicting conclusions and statements from medical experts and family members bringing doubt about the circumstances in what everyone agrees was a tragic death.

Mr. Hammond is charged with first-degree murder by abuse or neglect and is facing 15 years to life if convicted. He declined a plea offer Monday to a second-degree charge that would have brought 10 years in prison followed by probation.

James. E. Hammond

Mr. Wilson cast doubt on upcoming physicians testimony that he said fail to establish a consistent timeline as to the infant’s demise.

Also, Mr. Wilson said, the 10-woman, six-man jury should evaluate the credibility of an upcoming juvenile’s statement that she saw Aubri’s bruises after being cared for by Mr. Hammond, yet also told investigators she played with the baby at home in the 200 block of Commerce Street on Feb. 28 when the child had actually died earlier in the day.

The prosecution said it will produce texts showing that Mr. Hammond urged his girlfriend and her children not to say anything when an investigation began soon after the hospital reported the death to authorities. The texts were initially deleted on Mr. Hammond’s orders, the prosecution claimed, but later recovered as evidence.

Also, according to Deputy Attorney General Stephen R. Welch, the defendant reportedly wanted to wait another day to take the injured child to the hospital before his girlfriend insisted.

As to Mr. Hammond’s proposal to keep the baby home another day, Mr. Wilson said he was unsure if the child was suffering from what was later diagnosed as influenza.

At the hospital, Mr. Welch said, the girlfriend allegedly told staff that Aubri had fallen from a couch, yet never mentioned that again during the investigation.

Mr. Hammond maintained the baby fell from a crib that was wedged between a wall and a bed, which prosecutors said would be proven to be impossible. Even if so, the deputy attorney general said, the severe injuries could not have resulted from the fall.

The prosecution believes the infant suffered fatal blows to the head while in the care of Mr. Hammond for three to four hours on Feb. 27. His girlfriend and her three children were at a doctor’s visit during that time.

On Feb. 25, 2014, parents dropped the baby off at her great aunt and boyfriend Mr. Hammond’s home as they prepared to embark on a vacation cruise, the deputy attorney general said.

The child was ill that week, Mr. Welch said investigation found, and had trouble sleeping at night as Mr. Hammond slumbered on a nearby couch.

She was “sick, wasn’t sleeping well, congested, waking up at night, throwing up,” Mr. Welch told the jury.

Also staying at the home were the girlfriend’s three children ages 14, 13, and 10, and a 7-month-old daughter of hers and Mr. Hammond.

According to the deputy attorney general, Aubri had bruises on each cheek, nose and ears, along with contusions to the scalp later located by a medical examiner’s autopsy. A photo of the late child’s face shown on a large courtroom screen as Mr. Welch made part of his presentation.

The prosecution said that while the homicide was not intentionally caused, it would be proven to be reckless based on the defendant’s state of mind.

Mr. Wilson said testimony will show that Mr. Hammond’s girlfriend never saw the baby’s bruises but had a “mom instinct that kicked in” when she felt something was wrong before heading to the hospital.

Jurors requested and received notebooks and pens after the attorney’s opening remarks and the first witness — a registered nurse at Milford Memorial Hospital in 2014 — was called to the stand by the prosecution.

Mr. Hammond was arrested on March 14, 2014, and indicted on May 5 of that year. Five previous trial dates have been delayed, beginning on May 5, 2015.

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