The father on trial for killing a Juneau infant in August 2010 has been found not guilty of second-degree murder, but guilty of manslaughter.
The six-man, six-woman jury returned their verdict in the case against David J. Paul, 24, after deliberating for about 12 to 15 hours over a three day span. The verdict was announced at noon Monday in Juneau Superior Court.
Paul, who was accused of causing the death of his girlfriend’s 4-month-old baby Rian Jambi Orr, will be sentenced on September 5. He could be facing a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
During the four week-long trial, prosecutors argued that Paul abused the infant, possibly by shaking, which resulted in her fatal brain injuries. Orr was found seizing at home on Aug. 9, 2010, and was flown to a Seattle hospital where she died a week later.
“It is the collective hope of the Juneau District Attorney’s Office and the Juneau Police Department that by presenting Rian’s case we did right by Rian, vindicated her memory, and served justice,” Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp said in a statement after the verdict was announced.
After the jury foreperson read the verdict aloud, the defense asked the jury to be polled to ensure that each juror agreed with the verdict. The judge obliged, and confirmed that it was a true verdict.
Judge Philip Pallenberg then thanked the jury, advised them that counseling was available should they require it and dismissed them from service.
The jury would have been required to consider two aggravating factors proposed by the state in a secondary phase to the trial, but the defense agreed to waive their right to a jury trial on those matters. The aggravators related to the fact that Orr was “particularly vulnerable” given her young age which made her “incapable of resisting,” and to the fact that an offense was committed against a member of the defendant’s social unit as they resided in the same household.
“I see those as probable to the fact that it would be impossible to not be found, sort of definitionally,” Assistant Public Defender Eric Hedland told the judge. “So I’ve talked to Mr. Paul about it, and to the extent that we could waive those, or admit those, we would waive jury trials on those.”
The defense had argued at trial that Orr had died from a preexisting brain injury, not child abuse. They had argued police coerced a false confession from Paul during an interrogation at the JPD station three days after Orr had died.
Jurors watched the videotaped interrogations at trial and heard Paul admit to accidentally dropping the baby then shaking her once afterward to make her stop crying. Prosecutors argued Paul allowed the baby to languish for several hours after that incident instead of immediately seeking medical treatment.
Paul stared straight ahead when the verdict was announced and could not be seen reacting. A paralegal with the Public Defender Agency sitting beside him at the defendant’s table consoled him and rubbed his back. He was handcuffed after the hearing ended and was escorted out of the courtroom by a court security officer.
His grandmother, Barbara Bruce, 59, of Rainier, Wash., wept and said to the Empire in an interview outside the courthouse that the guilty verdict on the manslaughter charge is devastating to their family. She maintains her grandson’s innocence.
“Heart-broke,” she said, clutching family photos of Paul she brought along to show the press. “I just don’t believe he did it. I don’t believe he did anything to that baby. I’m a firm believer that he’s really sticking up for the mother, though. I always thought he was protecting her.”
“I just truly believe David’s innocent. I truly do,” she added.
Hedland told Judge Philip Pallenberg, who presided over the trial, that he intends on either renewing his request for a judgment of acquittal, or setting aside the verdict and requesting a new trial. Court rules allow that application to be made within of five days of a verdict being reached.
If Paul had been convicted of second-degree murder, he could have been facing life in prison.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.