A jury convicted Lawanda Conettes Tripp, 43, of involuntary manslaughter in September 2012. She was originally charged with murder in the 2009 death of 22-month-old Teaira Michele Hall, who was in Tripp’s care when she died of head injuries.
In both trials, experts testified that the child had pre-existing head injuries before she was in Tripp’s care.
Her attorney, Vic Hawk, argued at the Monday hearing that Tripp was not “allowed to present a complete defense” because Superior Court Judge Michael N. Annis did not allow testimony of specific bad acts on the part of Tearia’s mother, showing that she was a neglectful and possibly even an abusive mother. That information was crucial to Tripp’s defense.
“The jury had to guess as to who caused the death of this child,” Hawk said. “(The child’s mother) is ultimately involved. That was a crucial element of Lawanda Tripp’s defense.”
Annis sentenced Tripp to the maximum of 10 years in prison.
Authorities were called to Tripp’s Avery Landing home Nov. 15, 2009, responding to a report that the child wasn’t breathing.
There was evidence Teaira had old, healing head injuries. Hawk said Teaira’s head-banging during a tantrum led to a seizure, brain swelling and her death.
Assistant District Attorney Joshua Smith said Hawk was able to present information about the child’s mother and about injuries she sustained before being Tripp’s care.
“The defense had plenty of opportunities to say this was a bad mother,” Smith said. “I think the jury considered all aspects of the case.”
Hawk said a recent change in the law could allow Annis to go against his previous rulings and allow such testimony because the evidence already infers guilt onto the child’s mother.
“The bulk of this (testimony in question) would have certainly stayed out,” Annis said, adding he’d make similar decisions again despite the law change. “I think the jury, in their collective wisdom, reached a just verdict.”
Annis said he was going to consider the written arguments submitted to him before making a ruling on the motion for a new trial.