Guilty Mother

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 17, 2008

Mother guilty for neglecting son hurt by hot bath water

By Billy Davis

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The mother of a child who was burned by a hot bath was found guilty late Thursday by a Panola County Circuit jury.

The jury of nine women and three men returned a guilty verdict at 4:55 p.m. against Amy Marie Lenard of Batesville for failing to seek immediate medical attention. 

Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale presented the case against Lenard, and the defendant was represented by attorney Stewart Guernsey. Circuit Judge Jimmy McClure presided over the trial.

Jurors were seated Wednesday morning and expected to hear two full days of testimony. A reporter for The Panolian observed portions of the court trial on both days. 

While Hale on Wednesday immediately absolved Lenard of harming the child, the prosecutor used a state statute to prosecute her for neglect. State law allows up to five years in prison if the state can prove a child suffered “substantial harm” by being deprived of food, clothing, shelter or health care.

Hale, who rested his case Thursday morning, argued that the mother broke the law because five days passed before she took the then-one-year-old to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford on October 31, 2007.

October 31 fell on a Wednesday, and court testimony showed that the child had sat in the hot water on Friday, October 26. The water scalded his legs, buttocks, back and arms. 

The child had been in the care of Shannon Caine, who had been Lenard’s boyfriend and had run the bath water.

Caine is also under indictment but was not on trial this week.

The child was suffering from second-degree burns when Lenard took him to the emergency room at Baptist, ER physician Scott Sanford testified Wednesday.

The burns were so severe that the child was transported from Baptist to a burn unit at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center in Memphis.

 “We had to administer IV narcotics in order to peel the clothes off. The child was screaming,” said Sanford, who treated the child.

Guernsey did not dispute the injuries examined by Sanford and other witnesses. But he sought to show jurors that the burns had begun as sunburn-like injuries, an assertion that was followed by a crucial explanation: the burns worsened over five days when Lenard applied an over-the-counter ointment.

Guernsey’s explanation was bolstered Thursday by eyewitness Stephanie Havens, who said she had seen the child’s injuries days earlier. She described the scalding as a “minor sunburn” when she viewed the boy’s back on either Saturday or Monday.

Asked by Guernsey about the condition on Wednesday, Havens said, “It was as different as night and day.”

Havens worked with Lenard at a Batesville law firm, where she viewed the injuries then accompanied the mother and son to Baptist.

Havens testified that medical staff at Baptist “yanked off” the boy’s socks and “pulled up” his shirt, possibly causing the injuries to worsen.

“Are you insinuating that the doctors caused any of his injuries?” Hale asked during cross-examination.

“I’m not insinuating anything,” Havens replied, repeating the description of the “yanked off” socks.

Havens also said during testimony that Lenard had stopped at her home to retrieve the ointment in order show it to doctors at Baptist.

Guernsey used Havens’ testimony to tell jurors that the child has recovered from his injuries.

When the trial began Wednesday, jurors immediately witnessed testimony about the graphic injuries.

Over an objection from Guernsey that was overruled by McClure, Hale showed six photos to jurors that had been taken at Baptist by Jay Hill, a Lafayette County sheriff’s investigator and the state’s first witness.

No one flinched at the graphic photos, but the court testimony became more graphic when Sanford described the emergency room scene: clothes that had to be peeled off oozing, bleeding wounds.

“The nurses were very upset with the mother,” Sanford said during questioning by Hale. 

 “I felt like the clothes had been on for several days,” Sanford said under cross-examination from Guernsey. “You do not get that kind of sticking from lotion.”

Hale’s case also included Le Bonheur physician Karin Laken, who was introduced as an expert witness about the child’s burns, and Panola sheriff’s investigator Mark Whitten, among other witnesses.

Guernsey’s witnesses began with Lenard’s ex-husband, Jonathan French, followed by her ex-mother-in-law, Ruby French. To demonstrate that the child’s wounds had worsened over time, both mother and son testified that they saw the child, who appeared unhurt.

“He was sitting on the porch,” the son told Guernsey. 

During both cross-examinations, however, Hale sought to establish that neither Ruby French nor Jonathan French were certain that their description of the uninjured boy occurred during the five-day period.

“So why are you here?” Hale asked the son, referring to his court testimony. 

Guernsey objected to the question, but McClure allowed it and Hale asked again. The son shrugged in response.

Jurors also heard Guernsey ask Ruby French if Lenard had been a good mother. French replied that she had but then added, “The only thing was her (not) changing the baby’s diapers and the children getting raw. We had an issue about that.”