A former GBI medical examiner testified Thursday morning that internal injuries that killed a Georgia toddler were caused by attempts by her foster mother to save the little girl’s life.
11Alive reports that Dr. Kris Sperry took the stand for the defense inside a Henry County courtroom, where foster parents Jennifer and Joseph Rosenbaum are currently on trial, facing murder charges in connection with the 2015 death of 2-year-old Laila Marie Daniel.
An autopsy revealed Laila had broken bones and internal injuries, including a separated pancreas. While the prosecution argued that the toddler’s injuries were consistent with physical abuse, the defense claimed Laila choked on chicken and could have gotten the injuries when Jennifer Rosenbaum tried to revive her.
Rosenbaum said she tried to perform CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver when Laila began choking but didn’t do things correctly, which resulted in internal injuries.
“My conclusion was that all these injuries were sustained during a very, very panicked frenzied attempt to try to save Laila’s life after she appears to have choked on some chicken,” Dr. Sperry testified. “She (Jennifer Rosenbaum) was doing anything she could to try to dislodge this chicken and save the girls life and along the way inadvertently caused injuries to Laila’s body.”
Last week, Dr. Stephen Messner with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta took the stand and testified that Laila’s injuries were consistent with physical abuse. According to Messner, Laila had loop-shaped bruising on her body that appeared as if she had been hit with a belt or cord.
She also had marks consistent with being punched by someone’s fist, the doctor said, as well as severe blood loss and signs of inadequate nutrition.
Further, Messner testified that Laila had burns across her stomach that appeared to be healing, and bruises on her head, armpits, inner thigh, and genitals. One of her ears had half of the skin missing, but it didn’t happen accidentally, Messner said.
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Laila’s older sister Millie also lived with the defendants. She, too, showed physical injuries consistent with being abused. Millie, 4 at the time, was removed from the home after Laila’s death and currently lives with new foster parents.
Mille, now 7, took the stand last month and testified that Jennifer Rosenbaum hit her with hands or with a belt, AJC reports. Millie said she once got a spanking for not getting dressed fast enough and another time for falling asleep in the car.
The little girl said her foster mom sometimes made them take their clothes off before hitting them.
On Thursday, the prosecution pointed out to Sperry that “no medical professional has seen injuries like this from resuscitation.” Prosecutors also argued that the little girl had injuries prior to the alleged choking incident.
Sperry acknowledged that Laila’s broken rib appeared “suspicious” and that the child’s arm fracture had been there “for a very long time.”
“The right eight rib of the back appeared to have a healing fracture. Fractures at this location in a young child are suspicious,” he said.
However, Sperry maintained that many of the injuries could have happened while the defendant attempted to help a choking child.
“Mrs. Rosenbaum was trying to pound on the child’s back to dislodge the chicken stuck in the child’s airway. She left these bruises behind. “
Closing arguments in the case began Friday morning.
A 2016 investigative report by AJC indicated that the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) didn’t follow up on previous red flags in the case, which likely could have saved Laila’s life.
On July 24, 2015, Laila moved in with the Rosenbaum couple after her birth mother was arrested for drug use. DFCS ran criminal background checks on the pair and evaluated their home before determining they were a good fit.
“The Rosenbaums are stable and reliable. They also appear to greatly love children,” a note in the child’s DCF file read.
By October 2015, however, problems began to surface when Laila broke her leg. Jennifer Rosenbaum, who was once a foster child herself, claimed it happened accidentally at gymnastics. A caseworker visited Laila, and after she determined that the toddler was doing OK, didn’t investigate further.
“She is doing fine by her attitude you would never know anything was wrong,” Rosenbaum said in a text message to the social worker. “Laughing playing singing and hasn’t cried once not even when it happened.”
Less than a month later, on November 17, Laila died.
In December 2015, the suspects were arrested for child cruelty and murder.
Jennifer Rosenaum’s arrest warrant read that she kicked Laila “with such force the child’s pancreas was transected. The child was believed to enter shock due to the blood loss resulting from the injury.”
After the child’s death, DFCS looked further into the supposed gymnastics incident. Staff at the gymnastics center said that Laila was never a member there. Millie was enrolled, but Laila was a spectator only and always sat on the side, watching her sister.
The trial is expected to last another week.
Jennifer Rosenbaum is facing numerous charges, including malice and felony murder, child cruelty, assault, and battery. Joseph Rosenbaum is facing a second-degree murder charge for leaving the child in his co-defendant’s care while allegedly knowing she abused the child.
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[Feature Photo: Laila Daniel/ Family Handout]