EVERETT — What happened to a 4-month-old girl’s brain and spine is the focus of a manslaughter trial that got under way Wednesday in Snohomish County Superior Court.
Kailynn Watson quit breathing while in the care of her babysitter in Marysville in February 2016. Prosecutors allege the death was caused by trauma to the baby’s spine. Defense attorneys for the babysitter, Cheyanne Arie Jarrell, 23, say there is no scientific proof the baby was abused.
Jarrell is charged with first-degree manslaughter, which means she is accused of causing the death through recklessness. Jarrell wiped her eyes with a tissue Wednesday when Kailynn’s photo was shown on the projector.
Jarrell had watched the girl along with her own baby, who was around the same age.
The investigation began when Kailynn was rushed to the hospital. Jarrell had reported finding her not breathing and without a pulse. The girl was declared brain dead three days later.
Jarrell cooperated with Marysville police. She denied harming the girl.
The trial is expected to showcase dueling theories about what led to the child’s sudden demise, including the ongoing controversy among medical and legal experts surrounding what can happen to young children when shaken or otherwise roughly handled.
Dr. Stanley Adams, formerly Snohomish County’s associate medical examiner, determined the girl’s death was a homicide. He concluded the child sustained non-accidental trauma to her head and neck, causing bleeding of the brain, subdural hematomas and hemorrhages to her eyes. Moreover, close examination of her spinal cord reportedly showed severe damage.
Jurors were told the doctor is expected to testify that likely would have created pressure on an important nerve. That pressure would have caused paralysis affecting the child’s diaphragm, leading to respiratory arrest and depriving her brain of oxygen.
Adams reached his conclusions after seeking additional tests and in consultation with experts from Pierce County and the University of Washington School of Medicine.
The defense has told the court it plans to call its own experts. Those doctors question whether the child’s injuries could have come from shaking alone, as prosecutors apparently believe.
In opening statements, public defender Martin Mooney questioned the timeline of the girl’s autopsy and when the eye injuries were discovered. Defense experts will testify that the girl could have been hurt as long as a week before she quit breathing, he said.
Kailynn had “not a bruise, not a broken bone, not a cut, not even a red mark,” Mooney said. He said investigators were too quick to pursue the abuse allegations and rule out other theories.
“Because she collapsed in Cheyanne’s presence, the assumption is that Cheyanne did something,” he said.
Jarrell had been babysitting the girl for about two months. The parents had known her for several years and she had watched Kailynn’s older sister in the past.
Jarrell allegedly had complained that Kailynn was a fussy child and cried more than her daughter. Kailynn’s parents said they weren’t seeing at home the fussy behavior that Jarrell described. They had considered finding someone else to watch the baby they had “welcomed home with lots of love,” deputy prosecutor Justin Harleman told jurors.
Jarrell reportedly told Marysville police detective Craig Bartl that she was so frustrated she called her mother for advice. She said she had tried feeding the girl, changing her and swaddling her before the breathing problems began.
Detectives did not turn up any evidence that the girl had been sick or injured before that day.
The trial is expected to last up to two weeks.