Manslaughter charges filed against nanny in death of Richland boy

By Paula Horton, Tri-City HeraldOctober 28, 2011 

Within an hour of a Richland boy's fatal injury, the 1-year-old had been climbing on his mother during her lunch break and playing with a plastic hammer, court documents show.

Ryder Morrison's mother, Tawney Johnson, had gone home for lunch and was back at work by noon June 22.

At 12:14 p.m., her nanny called 911 to say the boy had fallen, documents said.

Kelli Anne Jacobsen, 27, of Richland, was charged Thursday with first-degree manslaughter for recklessly causing Ryder's death by inflicting abusive head trauma to the boy.

Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller also included aggravating circumstances, alleging the victim was particularly vulnerable and incapable of resistance, and that his death had a destructive and foreseeable impact on others.

Defense attorney Scott Johnson said his client has been cooperating with police and prosecutors on this case and she was surprised she was charged.

"It was her belief and my belief that this case wasn't going to be filed or wasn't going to be filed against her," Johnson told the Herald.

Miller called him at 8:30 a.m. to tell him about the charge and asked if Jacobsen would agree to turn herself in, he said.

She did and was booked into the Benton County jail at 11 a.m.

"From the outset, she's been devastated by Ryder's death. From the outset, she's maintained that she had nothing to do with however he died," Johnson said. "Something horrible happened with that little guy, but it was certainly not at her hands."

Shortly after 1:30 p.m. Thursday, she made her first appearance in a packed Benton County Superior Court with Johnson and attorney Adrienne Farabee by her side.

Jacobsen pleaded innocent and her trial was set for Jan. 8.

Miller recommended Jacobsen be released on her own recognizance because she turned herself in and has stayed in the area during the lengthy investigation.

Judge Robert Swisher agreed and Jacobsen was released after the hearing.

During the hearing, Johnson expressed concern about the publicity the case already has received and asked Swisher to order attorneys and police not to talk to the media.

"This court is reluctant to issue a gag order," Swisher said. "That's in essence what you're asking for."

Johnson said he wanted to put his concerns on the record and handed up printouts of what he said he found online about the case.

In August, Benton County Coroner John Hansens ruled the boy's death a homicide, and last month the near-completed police report was sent to Miller's office for review.

Court documents filed Thursday provide more detail about what investigators say happened the day Ryder died.

Ryder's mother told Richland police detectives that she had been home at 11:15 a.m. for lunch and co-workers said she got back to work at noon. Detectives determined it takes about eight minutes to drive from her home in the 1300 block of Williams Boulevard to her office, documents said.

At 12:14 p.m., the nanny called 911 saying she had a 12-month-old baby who had just fallen down and his eyes were rolling back in his head.

She said he was holding his toy and fell backward.

When Richland Fire Department medics arrived three minutes later, Jacobsen told them Ryder was standing on a toy that was 6 inches high and fell and hit his head, documents said.

The emergency room physician told investigators that when Ryder got to the hospital, he was unresponsive, his right pupil was dilated and fixed, and his limbs were stiff and rigid, documents said.

A CT scan showed bleeding in the left front of the brain. Ryder, who turned 1 the day before, died during surgery.

Jacobsen later told detectives that Ryder was in the living room and she went into the kitchen to get him a snack and that's when she "heard a big thud." She said she ran to the living room and found Ryder lying on his back, documents said.

Doctors at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland and experts consulted after Ryder's death, said his injuries were not consistent with Jacobsen's account of what happened.

Daniel Selove, a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, said if Ryder was acting normally during his mother's lunch break, the injury would have had to occur after she left.

A pediatrician with Children's Hospital in Seattle who reviewed Ryder's medical and autopsy records also determined that Ryder's injuries "almost certainly occurred" after Johnson returned to work, documents said.

Dr. Kenneth Feldman, who also is a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington Medical School, also found that on the day Ryder died, he suffered multiple bruises, severe intercranial and eye bleeding, and a neck muscle injury, documents said.

He said the brain bleed that Ryder suffered normally is caused from severe whiplash events that also can cause neck muscle and spinal cord bleeding, documents said.

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com

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