A jury could decide today whether a young Gainesville mother is guilty of beating her 2-year-old daughter nearly to death, then withholding medical treatment overnight.
Janet Marie Yearwood, 24, is on trial in Hall County Superior Court on two counts of aggravated battery, first-degree and second-degree cruelty to a child and family violence battery. Authorities allege Yearwood caused a skull fracture and left more than a dozen bruises or lacerations all over her daughter’s face and body in her home at the Hidden Cove apartments in June 2006.
Defense attorneys have maintained during the weeklong trial that Yearwood’s live-in boyfriend, 31-year-old Adam Stephens, could be to blame for the girl’s injuries, which had her clinging to life in an Atlanta children’s hospital. The girl, now 4, has since recovered and is not expected to have any lasting effects from the injuries. She is in the permanent custody of her maternal grandmother.
Yearwood has been out on bond awaiting trial and was granted visitation rights. She faces a prison sentence of three to 20 years if convicted of first-degree cruelty to a child and five to 20 years if found guilty of aggravated battery.
Yearwood’s attorney, Craig Hickein, told the jury in his closing argument Thursday that "nobody knows what happened in this case," but said one "plausible theory" was that Stephens discovered the girl had wet her bed and struck her head against a bedrail in a fit of rage.
Prosecutors have relied on Yearwood’s initial statement to a nurse that she caused finger marks on the girl’s back and admitted to whipping her.
Yearwood testified in her own defense this week that she lightly struck the girl on the leg three times with a twig. Authorities believe Yearwood, angered that her daughter earlier slapped an adult relative, tightly gripped the girl’s face and back, struck her 15 to 17 times on the legs, leaving switch-shaped injuries, before knocking the back of her head against a coffee table.
Defense attorneys this week called a medical expert to testify that the girl has Von Willebrand disease, a blood disorder that can cause people to bruise easily.
"Von Willebrand disease is a key element in this case," Hickein told the jury.
Hickein said Stephens told at least six different versions of what happened, and his testimony at trial "suggests Adam is responsible for this, not Ms. Yearwood."
In her closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Wanda Vance pointed to Yearwood’s initial admission of punishing her child and the defendant’s demeanor at the time she was first interviewed as evidence that she was not covering up for her boyfriend.
"The state’s evidence is the defendant admitted to causing the marks on this child," Vance said. Yearwood later sought to minimize her role on the witness stand, Vance said.
"Janet Yearwood failed her daughter," Vance said. "She failed her when she let her anger and frustration get the better of her."
Vance recounted to the jury how after the girl was injured, she vomited and appeared lethargic, but was put to bed by her mother with a fractured skull.
"Janet failed her daughter over and over in this case," Vance said. "This little girl was severely physically abused, and she was too much of a coward to take responsibility for it."
Hickein said the photographs of the girl’s numerous injuries didn’t tell "when, where, how and most importantly, who."
"The prosecution failed to bring you anything but a theory of how it happened," he said.
Jury deliberations were scheduled to begin this morning.