Jury should get Richland nanny manslaughter Tuesday

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldMay 6, 2013 

The case of a Richland nanny charged with causing the head injuries that killed a 1-year-old boy should go to the jury Tuesday.

Both sides in Kelli A. Jacobsen's trial rested Monday morning, giving jurors the rest of the day off while the attorneys prepared their closing arguments.

Judge Vic VanderSchoor is expected to instruct the jury on the law first thing Tuesday. Then Prosecutor Andy Miller, Deputy Prosecutor Laurel Whittier and defense lawyer Scott Johnson give their final arguments in the case before jurors begins deliberations.

Jacobsen, 28, is charged in Benton County Superior Court with first-degree manslaughter with aggravating circumstances.

Johnson told the court that after meeting with his client this weekend, they decided it's in her best interest not to ask the judge to include a lesser charge for the jury to consider.

That means jurors won't be given the option of considering second-degree manslaughter if they don't believe the evidence shows Jacobsen engaged in reckless conduct, which is needed to prove the first-degree charge.

Jacobsen was the live-in nanny for Ryder Morrison, who died June 22, 2011, after he was rushed unconscious to Kadlec Regional Medical Center.

Ryder, who celebrated his first birthday the day before, died in surgery from what one doctor described as abusive head trauma.

After calling 911, Jacobsen told paramedics that she was fixing a snack for the toddler in the kitchen when she heard a thud and went into the living room to find Ryder on his back. The boy reportedly was not responsive and his eyes were rolling back into his head.

Doctors in the Richland hospital's emergency room questioned Jacobsen's story because the boy's injuries weren't consistent with claims that he fell about six inches while pushing or climbing on top of a small toy.

Miller says Jacobsen is responsible for Ryder's death. He called several medical experts to the stand in the past two weeks to testify that the injury which caused the bleeding could have happened minutes or hours before the toddler went to the hospital.

The defense tried to show that it could have occurred a day or more before Ryder's death.

Johnson, in his opening statement, told the jury to also consider the possibility that Ryder's mom, Tawney Johnson, did something to her young son or that the injuries were accidental and no one may ever know what happened.

On Monday, Scott Johnson renewed a motion he made before the trial to allow testimony that a text message may have existed saying Ryder fell off the kitchen counter the night before.

The text -- which reportedly was sent by Tawney Johnson's boyfriend to his friend when talking about Ryder's death -- was not found on John Roberts' cellphone during a forensic analysis by police.

Scott Johnson said since the phone records are missing, he wanted to question Roberts if he said that and then ask Roberts' friend and the man's sister if they saw that text.

VanderSchoor again denied the defense motion and Johnson wrapped up his case.

Ryder's grandmother, Carey Gavaert, testified Monday as the prosecution's only rebuttal witness.

Miller asked Gavaert about the phone call she got from her daughter after Ryder injured his arm a few months earlier.

Gavaert said her daughter was a protective first-time mom and worried about everything. Tawney Johnson often took her son to the doctor for even the little things, but this time listened to her mother when told the injury didn't sound bad and could wait until Ryder's first-year checkup.

"I regret it to this day, but I told her to wait until his next appointment," Gavaert said. "I wish I hadn't."

A Seattle-based pediatrician said the boy had arm, leg and shoulder fractures that showed signs of healing, which led him to believe Ryder was an abuse victim.

The trial resumes Tuesday at the Benton County Justice Center in Kennewick.

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