While dad NICHOLAS RAY MCKEE has been found guilty of 1st-degree child abuse resulting in death, he managed to beat the 2nd-degree murder charge. The baby "went limp" while Daddy was babysitting--apparently from brain injuries.
Notice that while the "shaken baby deniers" testifed for the defense, they couldn't explain away the fractured skull and other signs of abusive trauma.
McKee guilty of first-degree child abuse in baby’s death
By DON AINES
October 8, 2010
Nicholas Ray McKee was found guilty Friday of first-degree child abuse resulting in death, but not guilty of second-degree murder, in the death of his 5-week-old daughter, Bella Appel-McKee.
Washington County Circuit Judge Daniel P. Dwyer ruled that McKee “acted in a grossly negligent manner” that resulted in the infant’s death, but not with the “malice aforethought” necessary to convict him of second-degree murder. However, both charges carry the same maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.
McKee, 23, of Warfordsburg, Pa., also was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and second-degree assault, both of which carry 10-year maximum sentences, and reckless endangerment, which has a five-year maximum. Dwyer found McKee not guilty of first-degree assault in that he did not act with intent to cause serious physical injury or death.
Michelle Wiles, Bella’s grandmother, declined to comment after the verdict.
McKee did not testify in the trial, which included two days of testimony following by closing arguments Friday morning. McKee had waived his right to a jury trial, choosing to have his case heard by Dwyer, who announced his verdicts at 1:30 p.m., about two hours after closing statements by defense counsel D. Benson Thompson III and Assistant State’s Attorney Brett Wilson.
Dwyer ordered a presentence investigation be performed before sentencing McKee on Dec. 8.
McKee, Bella, and the baby’s mother, Jordan Appel, were living at 139 Washington St. in Hancock when Appel went to her grandmother’s home for dinner Jan. 3, 2010, about 6 p.m. Half an hour later, McKee texted Appel that Bella was not breathing and had gone limp, she testified.
Bella died Jan. 9 at Children’ National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., according to court documents.
The 6:33 p.m. 911 call McKee made to a dispatcher was played the first day and again Friday by Wilson. In the days after the Jan. 3 incident, McKee gave differing versions of what happened to Jordan Appel and others, but none of them could account for all of the time between Appel leaving and the 911 call, Wilson told Dwyer.
Wilson read a text message from McKee to Jordan’s mother’s cell phone in which he wrote, “I prayed and prayed and can remember more of what happened.” In his message, he wrote that he was lying on the couch holding Bella up when “she wiggled and i dropped her on my chest and ... that was just minutes before she was put in her car seat and started wheezing.”
In the text, McKee mentions injuries to the child’s head and neck, but the neck injuries were not confirmed until the autopsy, Wilson said.
McKee’s text messages and other comments were indicative of a guilty conscience, Dwyer said.
None of McKee’s explanations, Wilson said, accounted for the swelling and bleeding on the brain, multiple fractures to the back of the skull, hemorrhaging in the eyes and neck injuries that Bella sustained.
“Something happened to trigger the defendant to beat this baby to death,” Wilson said.
Jordan Appel had testified that McKee had seemed depressed and frustrated at times after Bella’s birth. Although he was aware before Bella’s birth that he might not be her biological father, Appel testified the subject came up more frequently after the baby was born.
Thompson told Dwyer that the state could produce no evidence of how the injuries were inflicted or that McKee was responsible. Instead, the state built its case around McKee because he was alone with the child that night.
“When Bella reaches Children’s Hospital (Children’s National Medical Center), Nick is greeted by a pack of wolves under the guise” of being with child protective services, Thompson said. There, he faced “ruthless, brutal, relentless interrogation” about what happened that night.
Thompson said there was no evidence of blunt impact trauma to the child’s head that a Washington, D.C., medical examiner, Dr. Sarah Colvin, testified was the likely cause of the injury. Under cross examination, Colvin testified that had questions about the existence of Shaken Baby Syndrome, Thompson told Dwyer.
Dr. Ronald H. Uscinski, a neurosurgeon, questioned the existence of Shaken Baby Syndrome when he testified for the defense on Thursday.
“He does obviously have a strong belief that you cannot shake a baby to death,” Dwyer said of Uscinski’s testimony. The judge said he found the testimony of the state medical witnesses more credible and that Uscinski’s opinions were “not consistent with common sense.”
“We’re always satisfied when we get a conviction,” although the state wanted to get the second-degree murder conviction as well, Wilson said.
“My client still maintains his innocence,” Thompson said. Any decision on whether to appeal the verdicts would be made after consulting with McKee, he said.