exposing the dark side of adoption
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Mother on trial in death of baby

An Ontario County jury is hearing murder charges against the Geneva teacher.

By Gina M. Masullo

Syracuse Herald Journal

CANANDAIGUA — Just over a year ago, 13-monlh-old Meghan Hawkins-Rusch of Geneva suffered severe head trauma. Her mother, who had adopted the baby just months before, took the child to the hospital. The mother, Lisa Hawkins- Rusch, told authorities her daughter was injured in a fall in the family living room.

The baby died.

Two months later, the mother was charged with murder. She was accused of violently shaking her baby to death or causing her daughter's death by striking her head with a hard object.

The trial started Nov. 6 in Ontario County Court in Canandaigua, The prosecutor rested its case Thursday morning and the defense lawyer began calling witnesses, court officials said. The jury may get to decide the case as early as this week, court officials said.

Lisa Hawkins-Rusch, a Geneva schoolteacher, is standing trial on two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of firstdegree manslaughter and one count of second-degree manslaughter. The charges accuse the mother of causing her daughter's death under different legal theories. If convicted of the most serious charge, second-degree murder, Lisa Hawkins-Rusch will face up to 25 years to life in state prison

Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo and defense lawyer Douglas Rowe of Rochester could not be reached for comment. Lisa Hawkins-Rusch and her husband, Stephen Rusch, adopted their daughter from an orphanage in China in the summer of 1992. The couple, who live at 401 High St., Geneva, had been trying to adopt a child for a long time.

The adoption made the front page of the local newspaper and was a cause of celebration in the school district where Hawkins-Rusch taught for five years. That joy ended with the child's death and turned to shock when Lisa Hawkins-Rusch was charged, a school official said at the time.

Lisa Hawkins-Rusch was transferred from the classroom to a district curriculum and planning office.

According to court papers, Lisa Hawkins-Rusch told a Geneva police officer that the child accidentally hit her head three times during the week before she died. The mother told police she shook the child just to get her attention, court papers said.

At the trial, the prosecutor argued in opening statements that the outwardly happy Rusch family hid a dark secret of abuse. Lisa Hawkins-Rusch's lawyer has maintained from the beginning that Lisa Hawkins-Rusch did no wrong. He has said the mother was a victim of an "avalanche of circumstances."

Rowe has argued that the baby's injuries occurred while she was not in her mother's care or while she was in China before her adoption.

1993 Nov 21