Woman charged in toddler's death to testify Friday



A Martinez woman accused in the 2009 death of a toddler she was baby-sitting wept quietly Thursday as a jury viewed graphic photos from the child’s autopsy.

The trial of Lawanda Concettes Tripp, 41, started Monday. After the prosecutor completed his case Thursday, Tripp waived her Fifth Amendment rights and said she plans to take the stand in her defense today.

Tripp is charged with murder in the death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall, who was in Tripp’s care when she died Nov. 15, 2009, from head injuries.

Dr. Keith Lehman, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner who performed the autopsy, described Thursday the head traumas and other minor injuries the toddler sustained.

Lehman told the jury the bruises on Teaira’s brain were “fresh” and “recent.”

Tripp’s attorney, Victor Hawk, contended the child had a habit of banging her head during tantrums. Lehman said he found evidence of numerous older bruises, possibly superimposed with fresh ones, but he dismissed the suggestion that the child could have caused her own death.

“It’s not reasonable to think a child banging his or her head could have caused this type of injuries,” Lehman said, describing the bruising on Teaira’s scalp and bleeding on and around her brain and in her eyes.

Lehman said he doesn’t believe that Teaira caused her own injuries by banging her head, but that someone inflicted them – and not days or weeks before she stopped breathing in what could have been a seizure.

“Severe head injuries were inflicted shortly before EMTs were called,” Lehman said.

Co-workers of Tripp and Teaira’s mother, Antoinette Hall, testified that Tripp often watched Teaira and did so with care. Tripp was a civilian employee at Fort Gordon.

Former co-worker Steve White said he saw Teaira bobbing her head in an unusual way and said he didn’t think the child was up to par developmentally with her peers.

Patrick Smith, a longtime friend of Tripp, said he thought that Teaira was lethargic for a toddler but that Tripp took good care of her.

“She definitely went above and beyond what I would think baby-sitting someone’s kid would be,” Smith said. “She treated (Teaira) like her own.”

Hawk said Monday that Teaira’s fatal symptoms were the result of an injury sustained before the toddler was left with Tripp. A head-banging tantrum at Tripp’s home aggravated the injury and sent Teaira into a seizure, the defense attorney contended.

“Nothing Lawanda Tripp did to that baby caused her death at all,” Hawk said.

The defense team plans to call a few other witnesses, including a medical expert, to testify today before Tripp takes the stand.

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