Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dad convicted of murder in death of 20-month-old daughter (Newark, New Jersey)

Another case where Mom worked (2 jobs!) while Daddy f***ed up.

Dad is identified as TRAVIS HARTSFIELD JR.

After possible mistrial, Newark father convicted of murder in death of 20-month-old daughter

Bill Wichert | NJ Advance Media for
on October 28, 2014 at 6:30 PM, updated October 28, 2014 at 7:39 PM

NEWARK — With a juror excused for misconduct, the prospect of a second mistrial hung this morning over the case of Travis Hartsfield Jr. in the murder of his 20-month-old daughter.

But after interviewing the remaining jurors, Superior Court Judge Michael L. Ravin decided to add an alternate juror to the panel and instructed it to restart deliberations.

“You’re a new jury,” Ravin told the jurors.

After roughly two hours of deliberations, the reconstituted jury convicted Hartsfield of murder and child endangerment charges in the March 2011 death of his daughter, Asiyah Hartsfield.

Hartsfield, 28, of Newark, killed the girl by punching her in the stomach when she refused to eat.

“I’m happy now that she can rest in peace,” said the girl’s mother, Darshelle Joseph, in an interview after the verdict was handed down. “It was closure to everything.”

The guilty verdict marks the end to a long battle by Essex County prosecutors to convict Hartsfield, whose first trial ended in a mistrial last year when a jury was unable to reach a verdict.

Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Michele Miller, who represented the state in both trials, later said the verdict was “a long time coming.”

“He murdered that child,” Miller said. “He was a grown man and he…preyed upon a small child, his own child.”

Hartsfield's sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 22.

On the morning of March 14, 2011, Joseph said she left her daughter with Hartsfield, because she had to go to one of her two jobs. They remained in contact throughout the day, Joseph said.

Around 12:30 a.m. on March 15, 2011, Hartsfield called Joseph and told her that when he went to change her diaper, “Asiyah wasn’t breathing” and that she was “ice cold,” Joseph said. Joseph said she told Hartsfield to call 911.

EMS workers later rushed the girl to University Hospital, where a doctor said the child had no pulse, no heart activity and was not breathing on her own. She was pronounced dead around 2 a.m., the doctor said.

A medical examiner later said the girl died as a result of a severed liver that caused her to bleed internally.

Hartsfield admitted to detectives that he had punched the girl twice in the stomach when she refused to eat.

With the defense conceding that Hartsfield caused his daughter’s death, the main issue during the trial was his state of mind and whether he intended to cause serious bodily injury to the girl.

Miller had said the fatal blows were intentional and called for the murder conviction.

But Hartsfield’s attorney, Susan Freedman, said he didn’t intend to seriously harm the child and referred to the incident as “quick and momentary and thoughtless and reactive.” She encouraged jurors to consider the lesser-included offense of reckless manslaughter.

Freedman declined to comment on the verdict.

In an interview outside the courthouse, one of the jurors said she was leaning toward the lesser-included offenses, because she didn’t think Hartsfield intended to kill his daughter.

But the juror said she ultimately agreed to the murder conviction because Hartsfield had punched the girl with such great force that she died as a result.

“Those blows that he issued the baby, I couldn’t get around those,” said the juror, who declined to provide her name. “Even if you’re angry, you shouldn’t punch a baby that hard.”

For a few days, however, it was possible that a mistrial would be declared due to the actions of one of the jurors.

The problem with the juror first came to light on Friday morning, when another juror raised concerns with Ravin and the attorneys about how the juror had spoke during deliberations about her previous involvement in an investigation by the Division of Youth and Family Services, according to Ravin, who recounted the events in court today.

The concerned juror said of his colleague, “She’s very emotional. She’s showing too much emotion and not basing her decision on facts and evidence,” according to Ravin.

The jury had begun its deliberations on Wednesday.

Ravin said he ultimately excused the juror on Friday, because during jury selection, she had failed to disclose that DYFS investigation as well as the fact that she had a prior theft conviction.

The judge found that the juror’s misconduct related solely to her and not to her interaction with the other jurors.

“She was being discharged regardless of any interaction with anybody else…She had to go,” Ravin said in court today.

Freedman called for a mistrial, claiming that the juror’s admissions had tainted the deliberations.

But after Ravin and the attoneys questioned the remaining jurors about the matter in separate interviews, Ravin rejected the mistrial bid and agreed to add the alternate juror to the panel.

“The court concludes that no deliberating juror has been tainted,” Ravin said.