From left, Jennifer Rosenbaum; Laila Marie Daniel, 2; and Laila’s 4-year-old sister. The two girls were in foster care living with Rosenbaum in McDonough. Rosenbaum is now charged with murder in connection with Laila’s death on Nov. 17. Photo provided by Rosenbaum’s attorney, Corinne Mull.

Autopsy challenges foster mom’s account of girl’s death

Preliminary report finds no sign of choking by Laila Daniel

Autopsy results on the 2-year-old who died in state care challenge the account by the foster parent who is charged with killing her, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.

Jennifer Rosenbaum, who is charged in Henry County in connection with the death of Laila Marie Daniel, told authorities that the child had been choking on some chicken tenders. She said the force she used in performing CPR and the Heimlich maneuver may have caused the fatal injury to Laila’s pancreas.

But the autopsy performed by the GBI found no evidence that the child had been choking, according to records obtained by the AJC. The autopsy revealed the killing injury that split Laila’s pancreas in half, plus numerous internal injuries and broken bones she suffered over time.

The full autopsy results have yet to be released, beyond a statement indicating that Laila died of blunt force trauma to the abdomen. The AJC discovered the preliminary autopsy results while reviewing hundreds of pages in the case file on Laila, obtained through the state Open Records Act from the Division of Family and Children Services.

The file indicated that on Nov. 20, 2015, days after the girl’s death, the agency was briefed on the autopsy by Dr. Lora Darrisaw of the GBI’s medical examiner’s office.

The DFCS account of Darrisaw's remarks contained these four words: “Laila did not choke.” Noting that the doctor had examined the girl’s esophagus and trachea, it added, “Both were clear of any obstruction and no trauma to the area.”

The autopsy results call into question Rosenbaum’s account of the Nov. 17 incident — that she may have inadvertently hurt Laila while trying to save the child’s life. Her attorney stood by that story Tuesday, saying that the autopsy results reflect that the blockage in her throat had been dislodged before the procedure.

“The police were shown the chicken in the sink and they took pictures of it and samples of saliva off the floor,” said attorney Corinne Mull. “So the reason the (medical examiner) did not find any blockage is because Jennifer had been successful in clearing it.”

Deaths of children in state foster care are rare, and Laila’s case has drawn national scrutiny to Georgia’s child protection agency.

DFCS removed Laila and her sister from their family’s care and placed them with Rosenbaum and her husband, Joseph, on July 24. The removal of a child from his or her family is among the ultimate exercises of the state’s power over individuals. Most often, the state removes children to protect them after they’ve been abused or neglected. So it is all the more surprising, and tragic, when a child dies while in the state’s care.

In this case, the agency placed the blond-haired child in the hands of Rosenbaum — an Army National Guard vet, law student and candidate for county office — who police say eventually beat, starved and killed the child.

Both Laila’s caseworker and her supervisor have been fired.

Rosenbaum has been charged with murder and child abuse. She was granted a $100,000 bond last month by Henry County Judge Arch McGarity, who also ordered her to wear an ankle-monitoring device. Her husband, also out on bond, has been charged with child abuse.

The arrest warrant for Jennifer Rosenbaum said she killed the girl by striking the child in the abdomen “with such force the child’s pancreas was transected. The child was believed to enter shock due to the blood loss resulting from the injury.”

Mull, Rosenbaum’s attorney, said the couple never abused the children. Mull attributed the children’s injuries to either abuse prior to their stay with the Rosenbaums or to the general bumps and bruises of childhood play.

According to the DFCS case file, Rosenbaum told DFCS officials that she had used her finger to try to dislodge the food that was blocking Laila’s airway. When that didn’t work, she used a butter knife to try to clear it, but Laila continued to struggle to breathe. Rosenbaum said she then called 911.

The autopsy results also raise questions concerning Rosenbaum’s account of another of Laila’s injuries. Rosenbaum had told the DFCS caseworker that the child broke her leg at gymnastics. The autopsy ruled out gymnastics as the cause for any of the child’s injuries.

After Laila’s death, further DFCS investigation discovered that Laila had not engaged in gymnastics.