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Cases laid out in death of baby


AUBURN - Sarah Allen's 21-month-old son died from severe head and neck injuries. Neither the state nor Allen's defense lawyer will dispute that over the next two weeks.

The question facing the jury assigned to Allen's manslaughter trial, which started Wednesday in Androscoggin County Superior Court, is what caused the toddler's brain to bleed and swell.

Did Allen, a 30-year-old homemaker from Lisbon Falls, cause the injuries by violently shaking the boy? Or could the injuries have resulted from one or two falls the toddler took on the day leading up to his death?

Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese told the jury in her opening statements that all of the evidence points to Allen.

"The kind of force needed to cause these injuries is kin to a bad car accident or falling out of a window several stories high," Marchese said. "Common sense will tell you that small children don't fall and die. Our population growth would be zero if that happened."

Allen's lawyer, Verne Paradie, acknowledged in his opening statement that children normally do not die after falling in the bathtub or other parts of the house. But, he told the jurors, it can happen.

"Impossible and unlikely are two different things," Paradie said. "Falls in the tub can and sometimes do result in life-threatening injuries."

911 call

Nathaniel Allen was Sarah and Jeremy Allen's only son. The couple adopted him from Guatemala when he was 12 months old.

They hadn't even had him for a year when Sarah Allen called 911 on the night of Feb. 13, 2003. Hysterically crying and barely able to talk, she told the dispatcher, "He's not breathing. He's not breathing. He fell very, very hard."

Over the next several hours, Allen told emergency medical technicians, paramedics, the hospital staff and police officers that Nathaniel had fallen in the bathtub earlier in the night, then fell again after she brushed up against him in the bedroom.

A Lisbon police officer and the emergency medical technicians who responded to the scene testified Wednesday that Allen told them about the falls and made statements such as, "It's all my fault. I should have just held him."

The state claims Allen's story about the nature and location of the falls changed throughout the night.

Allen's lawyer argued that Allen's story stayed the same, and it was the medical professionals who mixed it up. The miscommunication, Paradie said, started with the 911 dispatcher, who described the incident to the emergency responders as an 11-month-old who fell down the stairs.

"From the very beginning, the facts were wrong," Paradie said. "People heard things that were never said."

Seven doctors

Less than 24 hours after Allen called 911, a neurosurgeon at Maine Medical Center decided Nathaniel's brain was so damaged that it wasn't worth continuing surgery. The Allens agreed to take the boy off life support and donate his organs.

Allen was eventually arrested and charged with manslaughter, a crime punishable by up to 40 years in prison.

Her husband, a Navy journalist stationed at the Naval Reserve Center in Brunswick, was out of town on Feb. 14. However, he has been charged with assault for allegedly hitting the boy with a spatula the previous day.

Bruises on the boy's thighs and buttocks were discovered while he was at the hospital, according to court records.

In order to convict Sarah Allen of manslaughter, the state must prove that she caused her son's death by acting recklessly or negligently.

Marchese told jurors she will call seven doctors to the stand. Each either treated the boy or studied his body after he died. Each, she said, will testify that Nathaniel died as a result of severe head and neck injuries.

"None of the stories by Sarah explain the injuries," Marchese said.

˜Very complicated'

Paradie also plans to call medical experts to the stand. He told jurors they will hear from two doctors from New Hampshire who will testify that the bleeding in Nathaniel's brain, neck and eyes could have been caused by the falls, or even by the autopsy procedure.

"The medical evidence is very complicated. You will hear so much, you'll likely be overwhelmed," Paradie told the jury.

While Marchese painted Allen as a frustrated, short-tempered mother who once splashed water in her son's face to quiet his cries, Paradie asked the jurors to "get to know the real Sarah Allen."

He described her as the daughter of two loving parents, the wife of a Navy man and a loving mother who kept a detailed baby book and read several books on how to be a good parent.

"Your emotions are going to be high," Paradie warned the jury. "Put those aside and listen to the evidence."

2004 Jun 3