Thursday, 16 December 2010

SIDS errors: VIRGINIA: Ashkea Johnson

By Brad Zinn/staff • December 11, 2010
STAUNTON — A jury deliberated for nearly four hours Friday before convicting Staunton teen Ashkea Johnson on a charge of first-degree murder in the suffocation death of her 2-month-old baby.
The 12-person jury also found Johnson guilty of attempted second-degree murder, bringing an end to the two-day trial.
The 18-year-old Johnson, who did not testify, wept softly as the verdicts were read in Staunton Circuit Court.
Johnson's baby, Rosaleeia Johnson, was lifeless when police and rescue personnel responded to the family's apartment at 337 N. Central Ave. the morning of Nov. 15, 2009, after a 911 call from Johnson.
The baby died four days later at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville after being declared brain-dead and taken off of life support.
Johnson initially claimed she found her daughter unresponsive in her baby carrier after leaving the child alone for about five minutes.
But under questioning by Investigator Chad Nestor of the Staunton Police Department, two weeks after the baby died Johnson confessed to smothering the child by placing a plastic diaper bag over her face, and demonstrated how she killed her daughter by using a CPR doll. On Thursday, the jury viewed the entire three-hour interrogation and again watched parts of the tape Friday while in deliberations.
Assistant public defender David Smith, who in August lost a motion to have the confession thrown out, argued that Johnson was coerced into confessing. On the stand Friday, Nestor admitted he told Johnson she could get less prison time if she came clean about the killing.
"So misleading is OK?" Smith asked.
"I believe they call it bluffing," Nestor said of the common police tactic.
With no forensic evidence to help support a murder charge against Johnson, the death could have fallen under the category of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, said assistant Staunton prosecutor Anne Reed. She praised Nestor's work and said the state would not have had a case without the confession.

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