The emotional response of a Gainesville mother after she found her 18-month-old daughter dead was the focus Wednesday as prosecutors began laying out their case against Deanna Renee Kipp.
Kipp is on trial for one count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, four counts of cruelty to a child in the first degree, two counts of providing false statements to police and one count each of aggravated assault, cruelty to a child in the second degree and concealing the death of another.
In August, Superior Court Judge Andrew Fuller sentenced Stephen Clark West, Kipp’s boyfriend, to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 20 years, in the June 2011 death of Kaylee Kipp.
During opening arguments Hall County’s chief assistant district attorney, Lindsay Burton, said Deanna Kipp never asked about where emergency responders were taking Kaylee or if they were trying to save the infant.
“Sometimes what is not said is just as important as what is,” Burton told jurors.
In his opening statement, Public Defender Travis A. Williams argued that Deanna Kipp was in a “difficult situation” after being abandoned by her husband and left to raise Kaylee and her two other daughters. Her desire to improve her children’s lives is what led her to move in with West, he said.
“These girls are the most important things in her life,” he told jurors. “She fought like heck to keep them.”
Williams said the reason for the trial is that Deanna Kipp didn’t react to Kaylee’s death like emergency responders and officials expected.
“These people met her on the worst day of her life,” Williams said. “I believe that the evidence will show Deanna was in a state of shock. (She was) a mom who just lost her youngest daughter and was trying to hold it together.”
Prosecutors called a variety of first responders to testify Wednesday, and many of them told jurors that Deanna Kipp’s demeanor was not what they usually encountered from parents with injured or deceased children.
Hall County firefighter and paramedic Michael Rogers told jurors he found Deanna Kipp upstairs after Lt. Doug Pruitt with the Gainesville Fire Department had taken a “very stiff” Kaylee to the ambulance. Rogers returned to the Kipp residence to get more information before taking Kaylee to the hospital.
“(Deanna) just wasn’t talking to me right off the bat,” he said, adding that Deanna Kipp finally told him Kaylee’s information and that she had seen the infant look up at her, lay her head back down and go to sleep at 9 a.m. that morning.
Rogers said that Deanna Kipp wasn’t crying and didn’t ask any questions.
“I just go on my past when I’ve seen how people react with children, and she wasn’t physically upset at any time,” he said. “She wasn’t nailing me with 1,001 questions like parents do.”
Rogers did admit that “there’s a varying degree of reactions” from parents, but he had never seen a parent not ask a question about the child.
Gainesville Police Department’s Sgt. Chris Jones also testified that Deanna Kipp’s demeanor “didn’t appear right” when he arrived on the scene and talked with her.
In a recording, Deanna Kipp tells Jones she locked herself out of the house, and that she was folding laundry upstairs at the time she sent her eldest daughter down to check on Kaylee. Deanna Kipp also repeatedly says “Oh my God,” throughout the first portion of the recording.
Williams and Public Defender Rob McNeill repeatedly pointed out that officials and emergency responders never offered to take Deanna Kipp, who did not have a personal vehicle to use, to the hospital. They also pointed out the responders had not heard Deanna Kipp’s demeanor on the 911 call.
Joel Ayers, who was picking up his future mother-in-law at the condo next to the Kipps’, lent Deanna Kipp his cellphone so she could call 911.
“I turned off the ignition (of my truck) and got out and heard someone scream ‘Help, help, I need help,’” Ayers told jurors, adding that he dialed 911 and handed his phone to Deanna Kipp while his fiancee and mother-in-law helped Deanna Kipp’s other girls get their shoes on and get ready to go to the hospital.
Ayers said he would describe Deanna Kipp as distraught and said it was hard to listen to the 911 call.
“She was upset so I wasn’t able to assess much” of what was happening, Ayers told jurors.
Ayers also said that Kaylee was facedown when he peered into the apartment prior to emergency responders arriving. Police and emergency responders told jurors that they found Kaylee face up, but with postmortem lividity, pooling of the blood, suggesting she was facedown at some time.
Pruitt told jurors he found Kaylee on her back with her arms in an “awkward position,” and she was cold and stiff.
“I wasn’t prepared to get there and there was nothing I could do,” he said.