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Change of heart? Defense questions mother's story about child's death

Jury to hear testimony from police on Wednesday in Paul trial

Posted: May 29, 2013 - 12:16am

Jurors on Tuesday heard audio recordings of Jaki Orr, the mother of a 4-month-old baby who died in 2010, speaking up on behalf on her then-boyfriend, now standing trial for murder and manslaughter in connection to the infant’s death.

Under cross examination, Assistant Public Defender Eric Hedland played the recordings wherein Jaki describes 24-year-old David J. Paul as always handling the baby gently and never becoming angry or frustrated.

“He’s really gentle with her all the time,” she is heard telling one Juneau Police Department detective during an interview that was recorded about a year or two ago.

The recordings seem to be in stark contrast to Jaki’s perspective now on the witness stand. She testified last week that Paul had yelled at the baby to “shut up” while playing video games and tossed a blanket over her to muffle her cries.

The defense questioned why she never brought those things up with police before during their many interviews after Rian Jambi Orr’s death on Aug. 15, 2010. She responded that she thought the police were only asking her about physical abuse.

Jaki testified she stayed together with Paul after Orr died and believed his story that his only wrongdoing was accidentally dropping the baby in the bathroom during her morning feeding on Aug. 9, 2010. Prosecutors say there was more to it: that after dropping Orr, Paul shook her once to make her stop crying. Prosecutors say Orr began seizing later that morning and was taken to Bartlett Regional Hospital. Doctors discovered she had a massive brain injury and she was medevaced to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center where she died a week later.

Jaki said she stuck by Paul’s side at Harborview where authorities and doctors treated him like a “monster,” which she thought was unfair, she said. Paul had already been branded by the authorities as a child abuser by that time, and he was the sole suspect in the case. He was prohibited from seeing the baby in ICU except on two occasions.

“I still don’t believe anyone has done anything to hurt her on purpose, I never will,” Jaki is heard telling Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp on one of the recordings from the grand jury proceedings.

But Jaki said she began to doubt Paul’s story after learning the state’s ‘Shaken Baby’ theory from someone who read it in the newspaper — she never heard it from him directly, she said.

“It took me a while before I started questioning that maybe some things that he said to me may not have been true,” she said.

Hedland said he anticipates showing that Paul gave police a false confession (that he shook the baby once) based on the pressures and dynamics of a July 8, 2011, interview with JPD Sgt. Paul Hatch. Hatch will take the stand Wednesday, and the jury will be able to watch the hour-long video of their interview.

With Jaki still on the witness stand, Hedland suggested she was changing her story about what happened the morning of Aug. 9 to adopt the prosecutor’s narrative and timeline of events. She denied that and said any discrepancy is due to memory loss since Orr died two and a half years ago.

“It’s very important that the jury and the judge and everybody else here today know exactly what happened and be completely truthful and honest so that my daughter can have justice,” she said under re-direct from Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Polasky.

She said she and Paul stayed together until he was arrested in July 2011. She was pregnant by Paul when they broke up, and she gave birth to their child on Christmas Day 2011. She said she left Juneau in February 2012 for Missouri, where she now lives with her current boyfriend and family.

The trial is expected to continue on for two more weeks in Juneau Superior Court. One of the fifteen jurors was excused early Tuesday morning due to a family emergency, leaving 14 to hear the case. Two of those jurors will later be dismissed as alternates.

Paul is charged with two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter. If convicted, he could be facing up to 99 years in jail for murder, plus another 20 years for manslaughter.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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