Woman told investigators that child had been sick

In a videotaped interview played at her trial Tuesday, the woman charged with murder in the death of a toddler told investigators the child was sick a couple days before she died.

The interview with La­wan­da Concettes Tripp was conducted by Columbia Coun­ty sheriff’s Investigator James Edmunds after authorities were called to her Ave­ry Landing home Nov. 15, 2009, in response to a report that the child wasn’t breathing. She was later charged in the death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall, who was in her care.

In the interview, done only hours after Teaira died, Tripp explained how the toddler was sick for two days before the incident, not eating much and vomiting what little she did.

“She’s gone and it hurts and for some reason I can’t cry,” Tripp said in the interview. “I’m still in shock.”

Michelle Johnson, a Geor­gia Bureau of Investigation forensic computer analyst, testified Tuesday that hours after Teaira died but before the interview, Tripp performed several Google searches on a computer. Search terms included “children that throw temper tantrums resulting in dangerous conditions,” “children on breathing machines” and “God, please help TT. She’s not breathing on her own and she’s just a baby,” Johnson testified.

Earlier Tuesday, a sheriff’s deputy, a firefighter and an EMT testified that they were initially told Teaira possibly choked on M&Ms.

Dr. David Coffin said he initially treated Teaira, who was brought into the emergency room without a pulse and not breathing, as a choking victim. He was then told she might have suffered head trauma from banging her head in a tantrum.

Teaira died of traumatic head injuries, according to Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins. She suffered injury and swelling to her brain and optical structures, Assistant District Attorney John Markwalter said.

Sheriff’s Sgt. James Moss, the criminal investigator assigned to the case, also interviewed Tripp, who said Teaira had been sick earlier in the day. She told Moss that Teaira wanted to be held and started crying. Tripp told the toddler that she would take her to McDonald’s and went to the bedroom to change clothes.

Tripp said she saw Teaira “pitch a fit” and bang her head on the floor, and she told the child to stop.

“She said, ‘I feel so responsible,’ ” Moss testified. “ ‘I should have picked the child up. It’s all my fault.’ ”

Only after a doctor found a knot on the back of Teaira’s head did Tripp demonstrate for Moss how she said Teaira hit her head on the floor between her legs, then slammed her head backward into the door.

Tripp, formerly a civilian employee at Fort Gordon, and Teaira’s mother, Antionette Hall, worked together, and Tripp baby-sat Teaira several times.

Tripp’s attorney, Victor Hawk, said Teaira’s fatal symptoms were the result of an injury suffered 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.

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

Hall testified Monday that her daughter sometimes banged her head on the floor, wall or objects when she threw a tantrum. She brought her cousin, Martina Cuffie, to the hospital with her.

Cuffie testified that Tripp told her several versions of what happened while in the waiting room. Cuffie said Tripp told her Teaira threw a tantrum, hit her head and stopped breathing. She then said she heard a shriek and found Teaira lifeless. Then Tripp mentioned she might have choked on M&Ms.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday, Superior Court Judge Michael N. Annis said. A key prosecution witness, who was not named, isn’t available until Thursday morning, Markwalter said.

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