Mom awaits verdict Deliberations: Jury considers fate of Lisbon Falls woman
AUBURN - Is Sarah Allen a liar who is trying to cover up the fact that she shook her only son to death? Or is she a victim who has been robbed of the opportunity to mourn the loss of her only child while spending thousands of dollars to prove her innocence?
This is the question now facing the 12 jurors picked to decide whether Allen, a 30-year-old homemaker from Lisbon Falls, is guilty of manslaughter in the death of her 21-month-old adopted son.
After hearing two weeks of testimony, including conflicting opinions from more than a dozen doctors, the panel of six men and six women was sent to a private room Monday afternoon to begin making its decision.
Jurors deliberated for an hour and half before calling it a day. They will return Tuesday morning to resume their discussion.
In her closing argument Monday, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese asked the jurors to break the case down into three parts: the medical evidence, the changing statements that Allen made to investigators and hospital staff, and the dynamic in the Allens' home in the days leading up to the boy's death.
"When you look at the whole picture, you quickly realize that there is only one verdict that is possible and that is a verdict of guilty," Marchese said.
Allen's attorney, Verne Paradie, also asked the jurors to look at the whole picture, including information he claims was overlooked by the state.
"Sarah Allen has been presumed guilty from the very beginning," Paradie said in his closing argument. "The state had no interest in finding out if this child had something going on."
Arguing that Nathaniel Allen could have died as the result of an undiagnosed, pre-existing medical condition, Paradie asked the jurors to question why the state never attempted to get a medical history of the boy's biological mother or medical records from his first year in Guatemala.
"The state wants you to believe that this case fits nicely into a little case and that case is manslaughter," Paradie said. "But sometimes everything doesn't fit nicely into a little box."
Paradie called his last witness Monday morning, a neuropathologist from Rhode Island who concluded after reviewing medical records from the case and observing an autopsy of the Nathaniel's brain and eyes that the boy had a pre-existing medical condition.
That condition, Dr. Suzanne de la Monte testified, was causing his brain to swell and likely caused him to have a seizure that led to his death.
Marchese blasted this theory in her closing arguments, reminding the jury that 10 different physicians have agreed that the most plausible reason for the lethal injuries to Nathaniel Allen's brain was inflicted head trauma caused by a violent shaking or jerking motion.
"This is not a box we're talking about," she said. "It's a child. It's a 21-month-old baby."
Marchese also reminded the jury that Nathaniel Allen arrived at the hospital on Feb. 14, 2003, with bruises on his thighs and buttocks, and it was later determined that his father, Jeremy Allen, caused the bruises the previous night by hitting him with a spatula as Sarah Allen splashed water in the boy's face.
"The spanking is important because it tells you what was going on in the house," Marchese said. "Sarah believed Nathaniel would look at her with defiance. It was a we-versus-him mentality."
Both Sarah and Jeremy Allen told investigators about the cause of the bruises on their son's backside during their initial interviews at the hospital. Paradie asked the jury to consider that in Sarah Allen's favor.
"She was not hiding anything," he said. "She was brutally honest with investigators."
Sarah Allen called 911 about 10 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2003, after noticing that Nathaniel was unconscious. She has since told investigators that her son fell several times in the hours leading up to the 911 call.
Marchese told the jury that the most compelling piece of evidence against Allen is the 911 call during which Allen told the dispatcher that her son "broke his neck or something."
This statement is important, Marchese argued, because it shows Allen assumed her son's neck broke or snapped as she was shaking him back and forth.
"She knew what she had done," Marchese said. "Sarah Allen knew she had done something very wrong."
In order to convict Allen of manslaughter, all 12 jurors must agree that she is guilty. If convicted, Allen could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.