A Henry County grand jury indicted two foster parents on murder charges Thursday in connection with the death of Laila Marie Daniel, a 2-year-old girl in their care.
Jennifer and Joseph Rosenbaum will face charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery and child cruelty in the Nov. 17 death of Laila, said District Attorney James Wright. Jennifer Rosenbaum, a former foster child herself, had been a candidate for the Henry County Commission.
The indictment was a surprise in that police had originally charged Joseph Rosenbaum with only child cruelty. These grand jury charges represent a significant escalation in the case against him.
Wright said the charges changed after the completion of the autopsy on the toddler, which he said revealed a history of injuries going back more than a month before her death.
“We cannot attribute the injuries sustained to just one of them,” Wright told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday.
Authorities had originally said Jennifer Rosenbaum killed Laila Marie Daniel by striking the girl in the abdomen with such force that the child’s pancreas was split. Laila went into shock because of blood loss resulting from the injury, according to the autopsy.
Corinne Mull, the Rosenbaums’ attorney, has said Laila’s death was likely a tragic accident. Mull said the girl died after Jennifer Rosenbaum performed the Heimlich maneuver and CPR when the child was choking on some chicken. Mull said the force of the compressions may have injured the child.
The family of Laila welcome the charges against the Rosenbaums, having waited nearly a year for the legal process to proceed.
“The family is ready to get justice for Laila,” said the girl’s great-aunt Kim Smith. “I don’t believe it was an accident.”
Smith agreed with charging both foster parents with murder, pointing to what she believes is a history of abuse against the toddler.
“The whole picture is a cycle of abuse that went too far,” Smith said.
Laila had only been living with the Rosenbaums for four months when the incident occurred that caused her death. She was placed there by the state Division of Family and Children Services.
Authorities had earlier said there were indications that Laila was abused over time with the Rosenbaums. The warrant noted that Laila was “injured about her body in its entirety.”
The GBI had briefed DFCS on the preliminary results of the autopsy. “Laila had severe abdominal trauma over time, since being placed with the Rosenbaums,” said a DFCS summary of that briefing.
In January, The Atlanta Journal Constitution had reported that preliminary autopsy results on the girl challenged the account by Jennifer Rosenbaum — in which she said she may have inadvertently hurt Laila while trying to save the child’s life.
Rosenbaum had 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 preliminary autopsy results had noted the fatal 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 to the public, 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 DFCS case file on Laila, obtained through the state Open Records Act.
‘No evidence against either’
On Thursday, Mull reiterated that neither Jennifer nor Joseph Rosenbaum had ever abused Laila. She criticized the escalation of charges against Joseph Rosenbaum as an intimidation tactic against the couple, intended to apply pressure or pit one against the other.
“There is no evidence against either of them, particularly against him,” she said. Joseph Rosenbaum, she said, was not even in the house when the Nov. 17 incident occurred.
In addition, Mull stood by the story that Laila likely died after Rosenbaum performed the Heimlich maneuver and CPR when the child was choking on some chicken. She has said the police were shown the chicken in the sink and they took pictures of it and samples of saliva off the floor. The reason the autopsy did not find any blockage is because Jennifer had been successful in clearing it, she said.
Jennifer Rosenbaum’s sister, Lauren Banks, said she was disappointed by the additional charges. “All the friends and family stand behind Jennifer and Joseph, and we’re confident in the end we’ll come out with a not guilty verdict.”
She reiterated her belief that the Rosenbaums loved both Laila and the child’s sister, who was also with the couple, and never abused them.
“They did so much for the girls. They gave them everything they asked for. They had a kid’s dream bedroom and playroom,” she said. “The girls even called Jennifer mom.”
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