Jury finds Baton Rouge mother guilty in baby's death; prosecutor: ‘Animals protect their young better than Ashley Heard did’ _lowres

Ashley Heard

A Baton Rouge mother was convicted Thursday night on murder and cruelty charges in the June 2013 death of her 11-month-old daughter, who died from blunt-force trauma to the head but also had old and fresh burn marks on her tiny body when she was rushed to a hospital unresponsive.

An East Baton Rouge Parish jury of seven men and five women voted unanimously after more than two hours of deliberation to find Ashley Heard, 30, guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Aaliyah Heard and also second-degree cruelty to a juvenile.

Heard, who will be sentenced Oct. 21 by state District Judge Richard Anderson, faces a mandatory term of life in prison on the murder count and up to 40 years behind bars on the cruelty count.

Heard’s boyfriend, Larry D. Leflore, 28, also of Baton Rouge, will be tried later on charges of first-degree murder and second-degree cruelty. He is accused of inflicting the fatal injuries on Aaliyah, believed to be his daughter. She was taken to the hospital June 21, 2013, and died the next day.

The child’s autopsy revealed bleeding and bruising on the brain, bruising to her face and forehead, a broken collarbone and a large contact burn on her upper right thigh, in addition to other injuries, such as apparent cigarette burns.

“I have tried a lot of horrific cases. This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” prosecutor Kathleen Barrios said after the verdicts were announced. “While justice was done, this could have been prevented. That’s the worst thing about it.”

Barrios had argued to the jury that Aaliyah might be alive today if Heard had taken her daughter to her family physician for treatment of a fresh burn the size of a golf ball on her upper right thigh. The prosecutor said a doctor surely would have contacted the state Department of Children and Family Services.

“As a mother, do everything in your power to save your baby,” Barrios told the jury.

Heard did not testify in her own defense.

In Barrios’ closing arguments Thursday to the jury, she said Heard was criminally negligent in failing to protect her child from abuse at the hands of Leflore — abuse that ultimately killed her baby.

“How could she not know? Who let him into that home? Who aided and abetted him? Who served her up to that man?” Barrios asked. “Animals protect their young better than Ashley Heard did.”

Heard’s attorney, Robert Tucker, told the jury that he found Barrios’ arguments offensive.

“It bothers me that someone would characterize this woman as an animal,” he said, noting that Heard took her daughter to the doctor seven times in her first seven months of life.

But in her rebuttal closing argument, Barrios did not back down in accusing Heard of essentially leading Aaliyah to the slaughter.

“She’s a shepherd who allowed a wolf into her flock of sheep,” the prosecutor said.

Barrios argued Heard was implicit in the abuse of her infant daughter, who was “too young to call for help,” and was also a principal to second-degree murder.

“Be Aaliyah’s voice. Give her justice,” she urged the jurors, some of whom could be seen wiping tears from their eyes Thursday when graphic autopsy photographs of Aaliyah were shown to them.

Tucker argued that Heard “didn’t lay a hand on that baby” and said justice will come when Leflore stands trial.

“I want justice for Aaliyah, too, but I want to get it right,” he said.

Dr. Cameron Snider, the veteran pathologist who performed Aaliyah’s autopsy, was brought to tears Thursday morning while testifying about the injuries he documented on the infant’s body. Snider, who has performed more than 4,000 autopsies, acknowledged he had never cried in court before.

Tucker argued Aaliyah’s injuries were all Leflore’s doing.

“This momma didn’t hold that child down,” he insisted. “This momma didn’t serve that child up.”

Snider determined the infant’s cause of death to be blunt-force head trauma and other injuries, and the manner of death to be homicide.

Dr. Zhenggang Xiong, a neuropathologist who examined Aaliyah’s brain and eyes, testified Thursday that he found a blood clot underneath the brain membrane, bruising on the surface of the brain and severe brain tissue swelling.

In his written August 2013 report, Xiong stated, “The pathologic changes of the brain and eyes are consistent with a recent (within few days) head trauma — ‘shaken baby syndrome.’ ”

Xiong explained Thursday that he placed quotation marks around the phrase shaken baby syndrome because the injuries he observed can be seen in shaken baby syndrome and also in other types of head trauma, such as blunt-force trauma.