published: Friday, September 21, 2012
Parker guilty of both charges
By SAMANTHA GHOLAR
SEBRING -- Former Avon Park police officer James Parker III was found guilty of first degree murder and aggravated child abuse on Wednesday.
Parker was sentenced to 30 years on each count, the sentences to run concurrently.
After five hours of deliberation, the jury decided that Parker's actions on March 28, 2009 caused the multiple skull fractures that resulted in the death of 20-month-old Kaedyn Short. Kaedyn died on May 27 of that year after being taken off life support.
Before the jury got the case on Wednesday, Parker, 36, spoke to jurors and the full courtroom about his account of what happened to Kaedyn, the daughter of his former live-in girlfriend Jennifer Short.
Parker had stated numerous times during interrogations and interviews that Kaedyn was a "clumsy" child. The night of the incident, Short left Parker alone with Kaedyn and the two other girls in their home at 3333 Sparta Circle.
Short went to work "upset and in tears," according to Assistant State attorney Steve Houchin.
The couple had had an argument regarding a planned relocation to Las Vegas, which had become a huge problem in the relationship.
Houchin questioned Parker about what took place in the early morning hours of March 29, 2009.
"Mr. Parker, you think Kaedyn tripped and fell, but you didn't see that," Houchin said.
"No," Parker replied.
"And you didn't see the second fall? You didn't hear any glass breaking or anything like that?"
"So Kaedyn was walking back to her bed, after you changed her diaper, and she fell down?"
"Yes," Parker replied. "I heard a fall, but it wasn't a typical thump on the carpet. It was a fall where she might have hit something."
"Such as?" Houchin asked.
"Such as a computer or tripped over a fan, some type of object," Parker replied.
Houchin accused Parker of giving "varying accounts" of the incident. Other witnesses, including Jennifer Short and Highlands County Sheriff's Office detective Tyrone Tyson, also stated that Parker's account had different variables to it.
Photos of the crime scene were taken and revealed the living room, bedroom and kitchen of the home. Clothes were scattered throughout the living room. On the far wall a recliner chair was positioned where Parker stated he sat with Kaedyn on numerous occasions and napped. The laptop that Parker stated Kaedyn might have hit her head on lay on the floor to the right of the chair next to the wall.
Parker testified that the laptop that was pictured in the living room near the chair was in the hallway before the photo was taken.
"Did you tell Detective Tyson that you had moved that laptop?" asked Houchin.
"No, sir," replied Parker.
"At any point did you tell them 'Oh, by the way, the laptop is not where it was originally?'"
"No sir. But I did describe that where she fell at she hit the laptop..."
"You've been on crime scenes before?" Houchin asked Parker.
"Would you buy anything you just said?"
Parker explained that the topic of the location change of the laptop never came up when being questioned because he was busy re-enacting the entire incident for the investigators. Houchin continued his questioning regarding what happened after Parker said Kaedyn fell the final time in the hallway of the home.
"Then you picked her up?"
"And you took her where?"
"At that time I took her to the bathroom."
"Had she stopped screaming by then? What was she doing?"
"Holding her breath."
"She'd do that from time to time wouldn't she?" Houchin asked.
"Yes, sir," Parker said.
Houchin then began a series of more intrusive questions that Parker answered with few emotions.
"Mr. Parker, you want to tell us what flat, hard surface you hit her head on?" Houchin asked.
"Absolutely not," Parker stated.
"Can you explain to us when you took her in that bathroom why she didn't have any skull fractures and when she came out she did?" Houchin asked.
"I can't tell you whether the skull fractures were there prior to when she went in, while she was in, when she came out, or the days prior to that," Parker said.
Houchin continued asking Parker what he knew about the injuries that Kaedyn had and how the symptoms of her injuries could have been overlooked.
Parker testified that he did not call an ambulance, 911 or take Kaedyn to the emergency room even though she was going limp and slipping into unconsciousness as he cradled her in the chair after exiting the bathroom with the toddler.
"Had I seen something different I would have called 911. If I thought her condition was an emergency, I would have," Parker said.
Jennifer Short arrived a few minutes after Parker called her home. According to Short's testimony Kaedyn was "unconscious, limp and pale."
"She turned the lights on in the house when she (Jennifer) came in so she saw something differently than what I saw," Parker explained.
"So you're telling us that you hadn't even turned the lights on to look at Kaedyn to see what her condition was?" Houchin asked.
Parker stated that he sat with the child in his arms and examined her in the light from the television.
"I didn't feel it was an emergency. I didn't feel it was anything out of the ordinary," Parker said.
Houchin continued his questioning, insisting that Parker had struck Kaedyn's head on the night of the incident. Parker continued to deny the accusations in a calm, composed demeanor.
Defense attorney Howardene Garrett redirected with Parker in an attempt to show Parker's concern for the toddler at the time of the incident.
"When you grabbed Kaedyn's hand when you were siting in the chair, did she grab your finger some?" Garrett asked.
"Did you know that she had a fracture at that time?"
"No, ma'am," Parker said. "I didn't have any idea. When Jennifer came in I still didn't understand how it could be a serious situation."
"When did you fully understand?" Garrett asked.
"When the police started showing up and said she had a skull fracture," Parker replied.
"You knew from prior experience that if that was the case that you would be a suspect?"
Garrett continued her questioning, asking how Parker had been treated following the incident.
"You had a unique experience. You had been a law enforcement officer, you knew what it was like. Then you had been in this position where you felt accused and been accused. Based on your experience, Mr. Parker, can anyone who has not been through it really understand what it's like?" Garrett asked.
"Absolutely not. It's nothing like anyone can ever imagine," Parker said.
"Were you concerned about Kaedyn?" asked Garrett.
"Absolutely. Yes." Parker said.
"How did you feel about all of this?"
"I felt that she was my daughter. I loved her very much."
"Did you do anything, intentionally, that evening to hurt her?"
"Absolutely not," Parker replied.
During his closing statement, Houchin said, "Kaedyn Short could not be here. She can not take the stand and tell you what Parker did to her that night. But she has spoken to you. She should have been the safest little girl in the world. Her mama was a nurse and her mama's boyfriend was a police officer. Nothing should have happened to that little girl."
Garrett closed her case with these words: "Nothing will ever be the same for anyone. Even if your verdict is not guilty, his life will never be the same. It is a tragedy for everyone. We know that he loves and is proud of Kaedyn. He said that to your faces. The prosecution has brought drama to this courtroom. It is to distract you from looking at the law. I ask you to look at the evidence and what it proves and does not prove."
Nearly 10 doctors and expert witnesses testified during the trial to give details, some gruesome and hard to interpret, of what they believed to have caused the injuries that lead to Kaedyn's death. Judge Dennis Maloney reminded the three-man, nine-woman jury to do their duty when making the verdict.
Jennifer Short, 28, was indicted in June of 2009 for not reporting child abuse, and failure to secure medical services/ failure to protect a child from child abuse. Her trial is scheduled for later in the year.
Small Banner Ads