exposing the dark side of adoption
Register Log in

Prosecution rests in trial over boy's death

A key witness against his Franklin Twp. parents was barred.
The defense is set to begin today.

Wendy Ruderman

The Philadelphia Inquirer

After the prosecution unexpectedly rested its case, lawyers are expected to begin their defense today of a Franklin Township couple accused in the death of their adopted son.

Prosecutors yesterday wrapped up their case against Heather and James Lindorff on the seventh day of the trial after Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez excluded one of the state's key witnesses.

In a report for the prosecution, Cindy Christian, a nationally known pediatrician and child-abuse expert at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, wrote that 5-year-old Jacob Lindorff had been the victim of "abuse, neglect and child maltreatment" and that she believed Heather Lindorff was somehow responsible.

Mendez barred Christian's testimony, saying the report was based on facts not presented to the jury. He added that it was the jury's job, not Christian's, to determine Heather Lindorff's guilt.

The Gloucester County medical examiner has ruled that Jacob, adopted from Russia less than two months before his death on Dec. 14, 2001, died of blunt head trauma.

Both Lindorffs were charged with child abuse, a fourth-degree crime punishable by up to 18 years in state prison. Heather Lindorff is also charged with aggravated manslaughter, aggravated assault, and endangering the welfare of a child.

At the request of the state, Mendez yesterday dropped the child-abuse charge against Heather Lindorff. Assistant Prosecutor Mary Pyffer argued that the child-endangerment charge essentially covered the same accusation - failing to seek medical treatment for bruises and burns suffered by Jacob. Child endangerment is a second-degree crime carrying a maximum of 10 years in prison.

The defense objected, arguing that the state was trying to prevent the jury from convicting on a lesser charge.

The state concluded its case with testimony from Lucy Rorke, a neuropathologist who works for Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and from the city medical examiner.

Rorke said Jacob had suffered two head injuries - a "very severe trauma" shortly before his death and an injury that she estimated was four to six weeks old. She said she believed both injuries had occurred after Jacob arrived from Russia in late October 2001. The defense maintains that Jacob was abused by his biological mother in Russia.

Rorke's testimony buttressed that of another witness, Gloucester County Medical Examiner Gerald Feigin, who testified Wednesday that Jacob's burns and bruises showed an "abuse pattern" amounting to homicide. Feigin said he believed that most if not all of the injuries had been "fresh."

Earlier in the trial, four emergency workers testified that they had noticed severe burns on the tops of Jacob's feet after his socks were removed. Three of them also noted several bruises on his body.

Heather Lindorff told emergency workers and investigators that Jacob had burned his feet when he stepped into a hot tub on the morning of his death. Ion Chuang, the emergency-room doctor who pronounced Jacob dead at South Jersey Hospital Systems/Newcomb Division in Vineland, testified that the burn patterns were symmetrical, as if someone had forced his feet into a hot tub.

The prosecution also played for jurors a four-hour audiotape of Heather Lindorff's statement to detectives on the morning after Jacob's death. On the tape, the detectives asserted that she had beaten Jacob after "losing control."

Contact staff writer Wendy Ruderman at 856-779-3926 or wruderman@phillynews.com.

2003 Dec 12