Thursday, 24 February 2011

SIDS: Nebraska: Lorenzo Guzman and Nicole Ramirez charged with manslaughter

 Bret Hayworth, February 11, 2011

DAKOTA CITY, Neb. -- An attorney for a man charged with manslaughter in the death of an infant who was found lifeless in a reclining chair told a judge today he will show the baby died of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.
At the same hearing in Dakota County District Court, an attorney for the baby's mother, also charged with manslaughter, said his client was not responsible for the death because she did not place the child in the chair.
Lorenzo Guzman, 35, and Nicole Ramirez, 24, appeared before Judge John Samson for a three-hour preliminary hearing in the case. Police say Guzman placed the baby, Abrieana Renee Mace, in a recliner and propped up a bottle so she could feed about 5 a.m. Aug. 17 and that no one checked on her for seven hours.
An autopsy report lists positional asphyxiation as the cause of death. The 11-week-old baby died in Guzman's South Sioux City home, where Ramirez and three of her children, including Abrieana, were staying.
Guzman and Ramirez had originally been charged with child abuse resulting in death, a felony that carries a penalty of 20 years to life in prison. Last month, those charges were reduced to manslaughter, which is punishable by one to 20 years in prison.
South Sioux City Police Officer Shawn Jensen was the first officer to respond to the 12:35 p.m. Aug. 17 call, after Ramirez and Guzman reportedly awoke about 11:30 a.m., gave one of Ramirez's other children a haircut and, an hour later, found the baby dead in the chair. Jensen testified Friday that when he arrived, it was obvious Abreana had been dead for several hours.
He testified about a conversation between Guzman and an emergency responder at the scene, in which Guzman said the baby had been found face down in the chair.
Officer Andrew Backman questioned Guzman in the police station later that day and testified Friday that Guzman told him Ramirez had gone to sleep at 11:30 p.m. Aug. 16 and that he went to sleep about 12:30 a.m. At that time, Abrieana had been strapped in a car seat in their bedroom, and when Guzman awoke briefly at 5 a.m., he took the baby into the living room, placed her in the recliner, propped her up and left a bottle nearby.
Backman said Guzman told of waking at 9 a.m. when one of Ramirez's children stirred in the living room. Guzman reportedly went into the room, saw nothing wrong with Abrieana, and returned to sleep in the bedroom until he and Ramirez awoke at 11:30 a.m. Their first action reportedly was to give a haircut to one of the two older children, and they found Abrieana unresponsive around 12:30 p.m.
"(Guzman) said (Ramirez) was a very heavy sleeper, she never got up at night," Backman said. "That was his responsibility, when they were at his house," Backman said.
Abrieana's father, Vernon Mace, lives in Wagner, S.D., and Ramirez periodically had her children live with Mace and then Guzman, with whom she had an off-and-on relationship, Backman said.
Backman said Ramirez told him during interrogation that Abrieana had a habit of stopping breathing, but he said a talk with the clinic doctor in Wagner revealed that the physician had never been told that.
Dakota County Public Defender John Loos Jr., who represents Ramirez, asked Backman if both people in the house should have been expected to check on the child.
"It would seem to me the burden would fall on the mother," Backman responded.
Nebraska State Patrol officer Doug Johnson, who responded with Backman on that August day, said the baby had been left alone from roughly 5 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. "The child had been left unattended for seven hours," Johnson said.
Loos asked whether a parent should check hourly on infants under their care. Johnson said he and his wife checked on their own children frequently, before Samson halted that line of questioning.
Later, as he ended his remarks for the day, Loos said that although he respected the testimony of the policemen, "I don't believe it is a mother's job ... to get up every time, every night."
Johnson testified that he'd investigated roughly eight cases of people dying of positional asphyxiation but that this was the first involving a child. He said people died by that means after being intoxicated or with other complicating factors.
Under questioning by special prosecutor Sandra Allen of the Nebraska Attorney General's Office, Johnson said Dr. Thomas Bennett, a former Iowa state medical examiner, also filed a report on the baby's death. Bennett agreed with the coroner's conclusion, Johnson said.
"This was not a SIDS death, this was definitely asphyxiation," Johnson, said summarizing Bennett's report.
An attorney for Guzman, Jerry Soucie, of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy in Lincoln, said he will use the testimony of a Colorado doctor to show the baby died of SIDS.
Attorneys for both defendants have until March 1 to file briefs in the case.

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