Monday, February 23, 2015

Dad convicted of voluntary manslaughter in death of 8-week-old daughter (Vista, California)

Dad is identified as LEE TRAHAN.

Dad guilty of assault in baby's death
Jury finds Marine responsible for baby's death, though he may not have intended to kill her

By Dana Littlefield1:33 p.m.Feb. 20, 2015Updated3 p.m.

VISTA — A jury determined Friday that a former Miramar Marine was responsible for the injuries that led to his infant daughter’s death nearly three years ago, even though he may not have intended to kill her.

Lee Trahan, 27, was charged with second-degree murder and other felonies in the 2012 death of his daughter Willow. He contended in trial that he had accidentally knocked the baby’s head against a door frame as he prepared to feed her one morning.

Prosecutors contended, however, that something else — some kind of abuse — had caused Willow’s injuries. And they argued that both Trahan and his wife, Jessica, failed to take their baby to a hospital until it was too late.

After deliberating about two days, a Vista Superior Court jury acquitted Lee Trahan of murder, but found him guilty of a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

The panel also found him guilty of assault on a child causing great bodily injury or death, a charge that carries a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

The jury acquitted Jessica Trahan, 32, of a felony charge, opting instead to find her guilty of misdemeanor child neglect. #A sentencing hearing for both defendants is scheduled for April 10.

Deputy District Attorney Michelle Ialeggio argued in trial that the Trahans were not bad people, but that something was going on in their Escondido home that friends, colleagues and other family members didn’t know about. She said the couple was overwhelmed by the demands of caring for Willow and her twin brother, who were born six-weeks premature. Willow was about 8 weeks old when she died.

Jessica Trahan also has a young daughter from a previous relationship.

“I think when anyone saw these two parents, the outside picture seemed perfect,” the prosecutor said outside the courtroom Friday, adding that she understood how it may be hard to believe the Trahans harmed their child.

The case was complicated, she said, but the evidence was there. A deputy medical examiner testified that the baby died of blunt-force trauma, injuries that were too severe to be accidental.

“(The jury’s) verdict delivers justice to Willow,” Ialeggio said.

Jurors declined to be interviewed.

The two defense lawyers were visibly disappointed after the verdicts, despite the acquittals and convictions on lesser charges.

Attorney Janice Deaton said Jessica Trahan knows she made a mistake by not taking Willow to the hospital immediately after the door frame incident, when the baby slipped from her husband's grasp, according to his testimony.

“It’s something she thinks about every day,” Deaton said. “I think she is a great mom. I cannot emphasize that enough.”

The mother had tears in her eyes as she left the courtroom. “Her reaction was about Lee,” Deaton said. “He’s going to be an old man before he gets out of prison.”

Although the jury found Lee Trahan guilty of manslaughter, it’s the assault charge in this case that carries the harsher penalty. A conviction on second-degree murder alone would have resulted in a shorter prison term: 15 years to life.

“He’s trying to process it,” said Brian J. White, Trahan’s lawyer. “He doesn’t know what hit him.”

White said he planned to explore all available options for his client before sentencing and, if necessary, on appeal.