The lead detective who investigated the death of a 4-month-old baby in 2010 testified Thursday that she singled out the infant’s father as the suspect in the case after interviewing him for 20 minutes.
The defense attorney for the 24-year-old father, David J. Paul, now on trial in Juneau Superior Court for murder and manslaughter in connection to the infant’s death, tried to show Det. Kim Horn was biased in her investigation by not treating the child’s mother as a suspect as well.
Horn testified under direct examination from Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp that infant Rian Jambi Orr was found seizing and taken to Bartlett Regional Hospital by her parents the morning of Aug. 9, 2010. Police arrived at BRH shortly afterward once they received a call from the Office of Children’s Services, who reported the E.R. doctor suspected child abuse.
Horn interviewed the parents at the hospital separately, first interviewing the mother Jaki Orr, then her live-in boyfriend Paul, who is not the child’s biological father but raised her as his own.
Horn admitted to Kemp that she took a “softer approach” in interviewing Jaki than with Paul because Jaki was inconsolable, and it was the only way to get information out of her, she said. Paul, in comparison, had a “flat effect,” she said.
Both parents told Horn during their 30-minute long interviews that they didn’t know how the baby received her injuries, Horn said. But while Horn was being cross-examined on the witness stand by Assistant Public Defender Eric Hedland, the jury heard snippets of an audio recording the Jaki interview, wherein Horn tells Jaki, “We’re with you the whole way, and if we’re going too fast, just let us know.”
Hedland pressed Horn on whether she had already made up her mind that Paul was the primary suspect before she had even interviewed him. Horn said no, and that she said “We’re with you the whole way,” to try to encourage Jaki to cooperate with police and to “get her to stay on our good side.”
Horn explained she singled out Paul as the suspect because he was the last person with the baby before the onset of her symptoms, which included whimpering, unnatural eye movements and seizing. Hedland pointed out that Jaki was the one with the baby when the symptoms were first noticed. The attorney also questioned why Horn asked Jaki if Paul was ever violent toward her (to which Jaki emphatically denied), whereas Horn did not ask Paul if Jaki had ever been violent toward him.
Hedland also established that Horn conducted those first interviews working with preliminary information that ended up being wrong. For instance, doctors at BRH initially said the infant had an air pocket behind her ear, which they apparently said was consistent with being slapped or hit in the head. Another false report was that someone had mistakenly told police at BRH that Paul had made admissions of guilt of hurting the child by bouncing her on his knee too roughly.
Other police interviews
Jurors heard a second interview of Jaki and Paul being questioned by Horn and another Juneau police officer on Aug. 11, 2010, at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Rian Orr had been medevaced there for advanced care, and she would die a few days later on Aug. 15, 2010.
In that interview, Horn asks Jaki if she’s the one who caused the injuries, and Jaki says no. Horn informed Jaki she is being looked at as a suspect, which Hedland challenged during cross-examination, noting that Horn gave Jaki a blanket to keep warm during the interview and kept up the “soft and patient” approach with her.
Meanwhile, Horn is heard on the recording grilling Paul and telling him that he owes it to Jaki to tell the truth.
“You owe her, David,” Horn says on the recording. “... You owe her the truth.”
“I’m telling the truth,” Paul insists as Jaki cries.
Jaki, meanwhile, is given unfettered access to her baby in the ICU, while Paul is prohibited from seeing the infant, Hedland said.
Three days after the baby died, Horn testified she told Jaki that Paul killed their baby during a third interview at the JPD station on Aug. 18, 2010. Horn conceded under cross-examination that she asserted that before an autopsy had been completed, and before Paul had made any admissions.
Later that day, still at the police station, Horn said Paul changed his story and admitted to accidentally dropping the infant in the bathroom while he was making her a bottle the morning of Aug. 9, 2010. When confronting Jaki with this news, Horn testified she tried to get Jaki to wear a wire to record subsequent conversations with Paul and that she tried to convince Jaki that Paul was the suspect.
Prosecutors say that dropping the child did not cause her fatal brain injuries, but that the admission is part of the evolution of Paul’s statements, which they say began with denying any wrongdoing to admitting to dropping the baby, and — nearly a year later in July 2011 — to admitting to after dropping the baby, shaking her once forcefully to make her stop crying.
The jury earlier this week saw a video of the interrogation Paul making that last admission. The defense says it was a false confession or statement that was untrue and elicited by police tactics. The defense also said on the first day of trial that they plan on questioning the validity of the theory of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Testimony is expected to continue Friday with Dr. Naomi Sugar on the witness stand. Sugar is the doctor who previously testified at the 2011 grand jury proceedings that the baby died from something akin to Shaken Baby Syndrome.
The trial is expected to last two more weeks.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.