Trial begins in Columbia County toddler death

Lawanda Tripp, 41, enters the courtroom for the start of her trial in the death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall. Tripp was baby-sitting Teaira in November 2009 when the child died from traumatic head injuries.

The attorney for a Mar­ti­nez woman charged with murder in the death of a toddler she was baby-sitting told a jury Monday that a previous injury, aggravated by a head-banging tantrum, caused the child’s death.


“Nothing Lawanda Tripp did to that baby caused her death at all,” defense attorney Victor Hawk said in the opening day of the trial.

Authorities were called to Tripp’s Avery Landing home on Nov. 15, 2009, in response to a report that 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall wasn’t breathing.

At the time of the call, Teaira was in Tripp’s care, said Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris.

Teaira died from trauma­tic head injuries, according to Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins.

Assistant District Attorney John Markwalter said Tripp gave emergency personnel and her neighbors – who called 911 and helped administer CPR – an “ever-evolving pattern of statements” that ranged from no explanation, to Teaira choking on M&Ms to Teaira throwing a tantrum that caused her injuries.

“Lawanda doesn’t know what it is,” Hawk said. “She just knows she’s got a baby not breathing, fists clenched, staring.”

Hawk told the jury that Teaira had “a history of temper tantrums, banging her head on objects.” Her mother, Antoinette Hall, testified that Teaira sometimes would bang her head on the floor, walls or furniture when she threw a tantrum.

Hawk said Teaira’s fatal symptoms were the result of an injury suffered two days before the toddler was left with Tripp. A head-banging tantrum at Tripp’s home aggravated the injury and sent Teaira into a seizure, he said.

Tripp, formerly a civilian employee at Fort Gordon, and Hall worked together, and Tripp had kept Teaira several times.

Tripp is being held in the Colum­bia County Detention Center without bond, according to jail records.

Testimony will continue at 9:30 a.m. today in the courthouse in Evans.

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