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Morinville woman found not guilty in death of foster child

Toddler's family cry out at verdict

By: Amy Crofts

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014 01:45 pm

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A Morinville woman has been found not guilty in the manslaughter of a 20-month-old foster child that died in her care in March 2010.

Christine Laverdiere, 38, was acquitted of the charges in an Edmonton courtroom Wednesday afternoon.

She was accused of manslaughter after the toddler – whose identity is banned from publication – was reported to have undergone a seizure at her Morinville home March 1, 2010.

The girl had stopped breathing and was in cardiac arrest by the time emergency medical responders arrived. She died at the Stollery Children's Hospital two days later.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Mary Moreau handed her decision down to a courtroom full of Laverdiere’s supporters and the toddler’s biological family members.

"I am left with reasonable doubt as to whether (the child) died as a result of non-accidental abusive head trauma caused by Ms. Laverdiere," she said.

“No!” responded the toddler’s biological grandfather, loudly, from the gallery.

“Murderer!” yelled another family member.

Month long trial

Moreau’s decision came after a month-long trial that heard two contradictory theories of how the 20-month-old died.

The Crown's position stated that Laverdiere inflicted the girl’s injuries, including brain bleeds discovered during an autopsy, “by acts of shaking, shaking with impact, or impact alone.”

Dr. Anny Sauvageau, the province’s chief medical examiner and expert witness for the Crown, testified that the “triad” of swelling and bleeding in the girl’s brain was consistent with an abusive head injury.

She testified the actions “had to have been violent, and in the case of shaking alone ‘extremely violent.’”

The defence’s expert witness argued there were “no bruises to the brain, scalp or skull and no tearing in the brain” that would indicate traumatic brain injury.

The toddler died from lack of oxygen following cardiac arrest and by vomit blocking the airway before, during or after seizure, stated Dr. Janice Ophoven, an American pediatric forensic pathologist, in her testimony.

Ophoven attributed bleeding in the brain to resuscitation and treatment efforts.

Court heard Laverdiere told the 911 dispatcher the girl “was drinking (from) her sippy cup … and all of a sudden she started flopping.”

Laverdiere was doing CPR when the ambulance arrived.

In her decision, Moreau noted that chest x-rays taken at the Sturgeon Community Hospital and the Stollery showed fluid in the lungs. However, they were not explained in any detail at trial or how they might relate to or reflect the presence of vomit in the child’s airway.

“The presence of the triad in this case makes the scenario very suspicious for abusive head trauma as the evidence does not point strongly to a prior discernable accidental traumatic event,” stated her decision.

At the time of the toddler’s death, Laverdiere and her husband had a three-year-old biological child and were foster parents to an 11-month-old boy.

The foster girl had been placed in their care about one month prior to her death, before that she was living in a group home.

The girl had court-ordered visits with her biological mother twice a week, initially at Alberta Hospital Edmonton psychiatric hospital where her mother was a patient.

Laverdiere had been a foster parent for two years prior to the incident. She did not wish to comment on the decision.


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