Retrial of Martinez baby sitter begins

Jim Blaylock/ Columbia County News Times
Lawanda Concettes Tripp and her attorney Vic Hawk this morning.
Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012 11:32 AM
Last updated 9:19 PM
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Lawanda Concettes Tripp turns toward her family on the first day of her second trial in the death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall.   JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
Lawanda Concettes Tripp turns toward her family on the first day of her second trial in the death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall.

The second trial of a Martinez woman charged in the death of a toddler she was baby-sitting started Tues­day, with attorneys for the prosecution and defense again painting contrasting pictures of Lawanda Concettes Tripp.

Tripp, 41, is charged with murder in the 2009 death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall, who was in Tripp’s care when she died from head injuries.

The original trial began Aug. 6. Super­ior Court Judge Michael N. Annis declared a mistrial Aug. 11 when jurors announced they were deadlocked after more than 11 hours of deliberation.

Testimony in the first trial lasted four days and the jury deliberated all of the fifth day.

After choosing a jury, attorneys presented their opening statements Tuesday afternoon.

“This case really is about the death of innocence with that child, and this community with the loss of the child,” Assistant District Attorney John Markwalter said.

Authorities were called to Tripp’s Avery Landing home Nov. 15, 2009, responding to a report that the child wasn’t breathing.

Teaira died from traumatic head injuries, according to Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins. She suffered injuries and swelling to her brain and optical structures, Markwalter said.

Tripp’s attorney, Victor Hawk, described her as a “good, kind baby sitter.”

He said Teaira was left in Tripp’s care sick and with existing head injuries. Teaira banged her head during a tantrum, causing a seizure and ultimately her death, Hawk said.

“Lawanda tried her best to take care of that little girl,” Hawk said. “This child was injured before Lawanda Tripp received Teaira. La­wan­da Tripp did nothing, nothing to cause this baby’s death.”

During the initial trial, experts offered differing opinions as to when the fatal head injuries might have occurred.

Markwalter said Teaira might have had previous injuries but that the fatal ones happened while in Tripp’s care and were likely inflicted by Tripp.

Teaira’s mother, Antoin­ette Hall, testified that her daughter seemed happy and healthy when she left her in Tripp’s care. She admitted that her daughter sometimes banged her head during tantrums.

Dr. Jordan Green­baum, the medical director for the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Center for Safe and Healthy Children, said she didn’t believe Teaira’s fatal injuries were the result of tantrum head-banging.

Tripp’s former neighbors, James and Lois Johnson, testified about the hysterical scene when Tripp asked for help for Teaira, who wasn’t breathing. They called 911 and performed CPR until emergency responders arrived.

“It was so chaotic,” Lois Johnson said. “Everything happened so fast.”

Jurors will return at 9 a.m. Wednes­day and are expected to listen to the 911 tape and hear from more witnesses.

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