Baton Rouge coroner: Preliminary results show 8-month-old's death in hot car accidental _lowres

Marvin Mercer

The district attorney says the case of the Zachary father booked on negligent homicide after his 8-month-old daughter died when he forgot her in his car appears to have been a tragic accident.

Nevertheless, the prosecutor said Thursday he will be reviewing the case.

“The only thing I’ve ever heard is that he’s a stellar parent from a good family,” Hillar Moore III, the East Baton Rouge Parish district attorney, said of Marvin Mercer, 31, who was arrested Wednesday. “From everything I’ve heard, this was an accident, one that I’m sure this family will suffer and live with forever.”

Mercer rushed his young daughter, Raylee Mercer, to Baton Rouge General Medical Center Mid City after realizing late Wednesday morning that he’d accidentally left the girl strapped in her car seat for about two hours, according to a Baton Rouge police report. Doctors and emergency medical personnel tried to revive her without success.

Also on Thursday, Dr. William “Beau” Clark, the parish coroner, said Raylee Mercer’s death appeared to have been accidental and was due to heat exposure or hyperthermia, according to his preliminary autopsy findings.

The baby’s father was released on $10,000 bail from Parish Prison late Wednesday night. A family member who answered the phone at Mercer’s home said the family wasn’t prepared to speak with the media.

Officials at Madison Preparatory Academy, a Baton Rouge charter school where Mercer works as the baseball coach, describe him as a devoted parent and a dedicated teacher. Dujan Johnson, the CEO of Community School for Apprenticeship Learning, which operates Madison Prep, said he hasn’t yet spoken with Mercer about when he might return to work.

Moore, the district attorney, said he hopes to review the case as soon as possible and consider whether criminal prosecution is appropriate. To prove negligent homicide, prosecutors would need to show Mercer acted with “gross and wanton disregard for the safety of others,” Moore said, a difficult burden of proof in such cases.

Moore said he’s aware of no prior incidents involving the family. State child welfare workers have never received a complaint of abuse or neglect involving Raylee or her family, said Grace Weber, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Family Services.

“I’m sure the family is devastated,” Moore said. “It’s a loss to the family and the community.”

According to the police report, Mercer intended to drop his baby daughter off at a day care on his way to work Wednesday morning but instead followed his usual routine, parking at Madison Prep about 9 a.m. It wasn’t until Mercer opened the car during his lunch break about 11:30 a.m., the report says, that he realized he’d forgotten the baby inside with the windows rolled up.

The baby’s death and Mercer’s arrest by Baton Rouge police hours later drew considerable attention in the Baton Rouge area, including from state Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, who in a Facebook post expressed sympathy for the family and frustration over Mercer’s prompt arrest.

“The parents are already hurting,” Marcelle said by phone Thursday afternoon. “I thought it was premature to arrest him. That concerns me.”

Marcelle said she made a similar mistake after her grandson fell asleep in the back seat of her car while they were headed to an LSU basketball game. She unwittingly left him in the car.

“It was only a few minutes but when it hit my mind, I thought, ‘Oh my God,’ ” Marcelle said.

Sgt. Don Coppola Jr., a spokesman for Baton Rouge police, referred questions about the decision to arrest Mercer to the District Attorney’s Office. Moore said officers make arrest decisions independent of his office.

“I hope to review the file and talk to everyone as quickly as I can,” Moore said.

Follow Bryn Stole on Twitter, @BrynStole.