Closing Statements Made In Death Of 7-Month-Old
By CHRISTINE DEMPSEYVERNON — — Did an overwhelmed working mom lose control of her temper and violently shake her needy foster baby to death two years ago?
Or did 7-month-old Michael Brown die because he accidentally rolled off a bed and fell 2 feet to the linoleum floor in the bedroom of the Mansfield home of Suzanne Listro — then a state Department of Children and Families employee — in the few seconds it took her to eject a videotape?
A judge is about to decide. Judge William H. Bright Jr. has been listening to testimony in Listro's manslaughter trial at Superior Court in Rockville since Feb. 26. He expects to issue a verdict on March 29. Listro also is charged with risk of injury to a minor.
Closing arguments were made Monday.
Prosecutor Elizabeth Leaming said that Michael Brown was "by all accounts a happy, beautiful and healthy baby boy" who didn't like to be left alone. She described Listro, 44, as a single mom who "juggled alone the responsibilities of caring for a toddler," her 3-year-old adopted son, plus those of her job even before Michael was placed with her on May 12, 2008.
On May 19, 2008, Michael died of a "massive, bilateral subdural hemorrhage," said Leaming, who added that the injury had "classic signs of inflicted trauma."
After Michael was fatally injured, Leaming said, Listro picked an odd way to inform her sister: She told her "something bad happened, but I can't tell you [what it is]."
"The defendant lost control," she said.
But defense attorney Hope Seeley asked what motive Listro would have to kill the baby. The 911 recording shows she was genuinely upset, she said.
Seeley also said the chief medical examiner lacked information about Michael's background when he ruled that his death was caused by a blunt, traumatic head injury. She also pointed to contradictions in the medical reports from a doctor who treated Michael that night.
Seeley said the baby might have suffered a head injury before he was in Listro's care. A new injury, even if minor, can exacerbate an old one that hasn't healed, causing death, she said.
She reminded the judge of testimony that in the months before Michael died, he was cared for by a variety of people. His mother returned to her crack cocaine habit while the baby was living with her, she said.
He also was left in a neighbor's home without a crib and with a half-brother who lacked child-care experience. Michael's first foster mom said that he slept for only two hours at night, and that was if he was being held, she said.
There are no medical records for the three months between Feb. 19 and the day of his death, she said.
Seeley also said it is possible to die from a short fall even without a previous head injury. She cited an article about a 23-month-old who died after falling off a playscape while her grandmother was videotaping her.
"Has the state proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Suzanne Listro recklessly shook this baby to death on May 19, 2008?" Seeley asked. "No."
Leaming, however, quoted the testimony of a doctor, an expert witness, that there was a "short time between injury and death."
She said the defense theory of a pre-existing condition "has no basis with the evidence that was presented in this case."