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Toddler's death not caused by old head injuries, medical examiner testifies

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The medical examiner who performed the autopsy on a toddler who died while in the care of a baby sitter testified Thursday that the girl’s fatal head wounds occurred within minutes or hours of a 911 call for help.

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Lawanda Tripp and her attorney, Victor Hawk, watch as the jury enters the courtroom during Tripp's trial in the death of Teaira Michele Hall, who was in Tripp's care when she died from head injuries.  JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
Lawanda Tripp and her attorney, Victor Hawk, watch as the jury enters the courtroom during Tripp's trial in the death of Teaira Michele Hall, who was in Tripp's care when she died from head injuries.


Dr. Keith Lehman, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner, told jurors in the third day of Lawanda Concettes Tripp’s trial that “severe head impacts that resulted in the brain injury” caused 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall’s death. Tripp, 41, is charged with murder in Teaira’s death Nov. 15, 2009.

The trial is the second for Tripp, whose first one last month was declared a mistrial by Super­ior Court Judge Michael N. Annis after jurors announced they were deadlocked.

Lehman confirmed that the child had some old head injuries. Bruises on her scalp could have been new injuries superimposed onto old ones, he said.

Those injuries, however, did not contribute to Teaira’s death, he said.

Inflicted brain injury and swelling, impeding the brain from controlling her heart rate and breathing, caused her death, Lehman said.

Lead Columbia County sheriff’s Investigator James Edmunds testified Tripp told him that Teaira had a tantrum and banged her head on the floor and front door of
her Avery Landing home in Martinez.

Tripp said she was hurrying to get dressed to take the toddler to McDonald’s.

“I screamed at her,” Tripp said in a video interview with Edmunds. “I told her to stop. I thought she was just acting like a brat. If I would have just picked her up and took her to the bedroom with me.”

Patrick Smith, a longtime friend of Tripp, and Steven White, a former co-worker of Tripp and Teaira’s mother, Antoinette, said they noticed the toddler had strange mannerisms such as rocking and head-bobbing.

Smith testified that when he saw Teaira in September, she was lethargic and seemed “out of it.”

Smith, White and Claudia Gonzales said Tripp took good care of Teaira, whom she watched often, and treated her like her own child.

Edmunds said Tripp didn’t react much when he told her Teaira died or when he interviewed her. He said she cried without tears.

Her attorney, Victor Hawk, said her “emotionless” demeanor was because of medications she took for anxiety and depression, however.

The prosecution rested its case Thursday.

Testimony for the defense will continue today with a medical expert, and Tripp could take the stand. She testified at the initial trial in August and denied harming Teaira.


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