7/26/2019 -- McDonough, Georgia -- Jennifer Rosenbaum (center) looks toward her attorney, Corinne Mull (left), before the start of the days' trial for her and her husband, Joseph Rosenbaum, in front of Henry County Judge Brian Amero at the Henry County Superior courthouse, Friday, July 26, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Closing arguments set for this afternoon in foster parents’ trial

Closing arguments are expected Friday afternoon in the trial of two former foster parents accused in the 2015 death of 2-year-old Laila Daniel. There’s no indication either defendant will take the stand. 

On Thursday, the GBI’s former medical examiner spent hours testifying that the girl’s injuries when she died weren’t caused by child abuse. Instead, Dr. Kris Sperry said they were the result of her foster mother’s frantic efforts to keep the toddler alive. His testimony was in sharp contrast to that of the GBI’s Dr. Lora Darrisaw, who performed the autopsy on Laila. 

Sperry told the Henry County courtroom that Jennifer Rosenbaum caused Laila Daniel’s fatal injuries on Nov. 17, 2015, when she attempted the Heimlich maneuver because the child was choking. Rosenbaum beat on Laila’s back and did abdominal thrusts in an attempt to dislodge a piece of chicken, Sperry said. 

“In my opinion, the injuries resulted from panicked and chaotic attempts to save her life,” Sperry said.

RELATED: GBI says Laila died from blunt-force trauma

ALSO: Doctor says sisters showed signs of child abuse

But prosecutors allege Laila died from physical abuse, including blows so hard to her abdomen that they split her pancreas and lacerated her liver. When she died, bruises covered Laila’s body, according to medical staff and the GBI medical examiner. Rosenbaum and her husband, Joseph, are both accused in Laila’s death. 

Jennifer Rosenbaum, a former candidate for Henry County commissioner, faces charges of malice and felony murder, child cruelty, aggravated assault and aggravated battery. Joseph Rosenbaum, who previously worked for the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office, is charged with second-degree murder, accused of leaving Laila in his wife’s care when he allegedly knew she was abusing the child. Their trial began July 8. 

7/25/2019 -- McDonough, Georgia -- Dr. Kris Sperry (center) is cross-examined by DeKalb County Assistant District Attorney Edward Chase (left) during the trial of Jennifer and Joseph Rosenbaum in front of Henry County Judge Brian Amero at the Henry County Superior courthouse, Thursday, July 25, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

On Monday, Darrisaw — who Sperry hired — testified that she found dozens of injuries, including broken bones, bruises and lacerations, during the autopsy. But she said Laila died from multiple blunt-force injuries to her abdomen that caused extensive internal bleeding. The child’s autopsy revealed no signs she had choked, according to Darrisaw. 

“I can say in Laila’s autopsy, based upon everything that I did, it’s most consistent with the trauma having taken place around an hour before the symptoms,” Darrisaw told the courtroom. 

Earlier this week, a Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta pediatrician testified that Laila’s injuries were indicative of child abuse. 

But Sperry said Thursday that Laila’s injuries could have happened from Jennifer Rosenbaum’s aggressive attempts to stop Laila from choking.

Sperry is expected to be one of the final witnesses for the Rosenbaums, who have said Laila’s death was accidental. During cross-examination, Sperry said he was paid $7,500 for his work on the case, though his fee is usually three or four times that amount. 

Laila Marie Daniel is the 2-year-old girl who died in state foster care. The woman who was caring for her, Jennifer Rosenbaum, is charged in the murder of the child.
Photo: HANDOUT

“I found this case to be not only challenging, but troubling,” he said. 

Sperry resigned as GBI medical examiner in October 2015 following reports he had built a lucrative private business out of his state job. 

According to a lengthy investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sperry had taken on more than 500 cases as a paid forensic expert, and his moonlighting had created conflicts of interest and undermined his scientific and medical judgment. 

On Thursday, Sperry said he had already been planning to retire the following year. He said he was not charged nor asked to resign from the GBI. 

“No one really cared,” Sperry said. 

The trial is expected to resume at 9 a.m.

Georgia chief medical examiner Dr. Kris Sperry talks about the death of south Georgia high school student Kendrick Johnson

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