Baby’s injuries too severe to be accident, Crown alleges

October 30, 2017 | By More

Evidence from experts will be at the forefront as jurors consider their verdict in about a fortnight in the trial of a babysitter accused of fatally injuring a one-year-old.

The Crown is alleging that Shayal Upashna Sami, who was aged 18 at the time of the child’s death in January 2016, assaulting the child she was babysitting, fracturing the rear of her skull and causing her death.

Aaliyah Ashlyn Chand was delivered to Christchurch Hospital by Sami and a neighbour, and died in intensive care.

Justice Rachel Dunningham told the jury members they were part of Christchurch legal history because they were hearing the last High Court jury trial in the present Court House in Durham Street. When the trial has ended, the courts will move on November 20 to the new Justice and Emergency Services Precinct.

Sami, who denies the charge of murder, is having a Fijian-Hindi interpreter sitting with her and helping throughout the two-week trial.

Justice Dunningham told the jury they would need to consider whether Sami had assaulted the child and injured her when she was reckless about whether death ensued.

“Did she know that what she was doing ran a real risk of the infant dying, and went ahead anyway?” the judge said.

She told the jury members they would hear a lot of expert witnesses “particularly on the issue of how the infant’s injuries could have been caused”.

“Expert witnesses are allowed to give opinions on matters where they have particular expertise,” she said. They would give evidence on the issue of whether the injuries could have been accidental or not.

She told the jury: “In the end, the experts aren’t deciding this case. You are. Their opinions are only there for you to consider. It is for you to make the decision as to whether the Crown has proved the case or now.”

Crown prosecutor Mark Zarifeh said Aaliyah sustained fatal head injuries on January 6, 2015, while in the care of Sami. She died in hospital the next day when she was taken off life support. “The hospital could not do anything for her fatal injuries.”

Sami claimed to staff and police that the baby had fallen off a couch where she had put her to sleep in the lounge of her flat.

The Crown said the injuries were not consistent with a fall from the couch. She had two skull fractures, subdural haemotoma, and multiple haematomas in the retina. She also had extensive bruising to the face, forehead, and ears.

Sami told the police that she had not seen the baby fall. She had heard a thud while she was in the kitchen cooking, and found the baby on the floor. She was unresponsive and floppy. She then alerted a neighbour and they went to get help.

“The Crown says a fall from a couch would be inconsistent with the severe and extensive head injuries,” he said. The child was able to get to a standing position, but would have to hold on to something to do that.

He said it was extremely unlikely that the extreme head injuries would have been caused by a fall from the couch, even if she fell from a standing position.

Evidence from forensic pathologist, Dr Martin Sage, would suggest that blunt force injury to the back of the head indicated an impact with a relatively smooth and flat surface. Mr Zarifeh said the pathologist was of the view that the presence of extensive fresh bruising to the right and left sides of the face meant that the injuries were “highly compatible with inflicted injuries”. The bruising indicated tight grasping by an adult hand.

Mr Zarifeh said the Crown would allege the injuries had been inflicted in a moment of anger and frustration. The Crown would say it was “a reckless killing”.

He said there was no allegation that Sami intended to kill Aaliyah. “It would be murder if the Crown proves that the defendant intended to cause bodily injury and she was reckless whether death occurred.”

The Crown would call evidence from 26 witnesses.

Defence counsel Jonathan Eaton QC said in his opening statement that Aaliyah had died as a result of a tragic accident. “She suffered some sort of fall within the house. It is rare to die from such an accident – all the experts will agree that it can happen.

“It was an unwitnessed accident, but obviously involved her falling from the furniture.

“There was no crime committed here. There was no murder, no manslaughter, no assault. It was an accident,” Mr Eaton said.

The trial is continuing.

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