Before deliberations resumed on Tuesday in the case of foster parents accused of beating toddler Laila Daniel to death, a Henry County judge replaced a juror who spoke with a local reporter.
Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero announced that a juror admitted he was eating lunch and wearing a juror badge when an AJC reporter approached him for comment. The juror claimed the reporter “asked him how far along they were,” allegedly referencing deliberations in the case.
The trial for foster parents Jennifer and Joseph Rosenbaum started weeks ago. They’re facing 49 charges in connection with the toddler’s death. The jury was on their second day of deliberations when the encounter with the reporter occurred. The judge asked the juror if he could continue on fairly with the trial. Although the juror said he could, the judge ultimately replaced him and put him on the alternates list.
According to AJC, reporter Alexis Stevens claimed she was misunderstood. Stevens said she asked the juror, “How’s it going?” according to the outlet, and meant it as a greeting. Stevens said she was not seeking information about the deliberations.
“I asked him how it was going. His response to me was not that he couldn’t talk. He did start talking. Then I walked away.”
Defense attorney Corrine Mull argued that aside from the juror conversation, there was a further issue with the “buildup” and excessive interest in the case from the media.
“It’s not just one thing,” Mull told the judge. “It’s a build-up.”
The defense also accused Stevens, along with a deputy who has been in court watching the trial, of being on a Facebook group called “Justice for Laila.” Mull said the deputy posted comments in the group in support of the prosecution.
Prosecutor Eddie Chambers said it was the deputy’s First Amendment right to be in the group and that the defense was “grasping at straws.”
The defense asked for a mistrial but the judge ultimately denied it. However, he scolded Stevens for approaching the juror.
“I’m going to start by saying you are not to have any contact with members of the jury. Not friendly regards, not ‘How’s it going?’ nothing that would elicit any sort of feedback from them to you about the nature of this case or anything. You understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Stevens replied.
What Happened to Laila Daniel?
As CrimeOnline previously reported, 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.
Dr. Kris Sperry took the stand for the defense last week and explained why he thought the injuries could have been accidental.
Rosenbaum previously 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.”
During the week prior, however, 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.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.
The prosecution pointed out to Sperry last Thursday 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. “
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.
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]