Toddler died from physical abuse in Elwood home, doctor testifies
By Janet Lundquist firstname.lastname@example.org December 13, 2012 6:32PM
Updated: January 15, 2013 11:40AM
The toddler who died days after moving into her future stepfather’s Elwood home was a victim of physical abuse, a doctor testified Thursday.
Lee K. Ponshe, 29, of Elwood, has been accused of inflicting the fatal injuries on his fiancee’s daughter after she woke in the early morning of April 15, 2009.
Jurors in Ponshe’s murder trial spent most of the day Thursday listening to testimony from a forensic neuropathologist who reviewed the case.
Ponshe was charged with murder for the death of 18-month-old Halli R. Burton, the daughter of a woman he met on an Internet dating website and who had moved into his home days before.
He was engaged to Jessi Dunlap of White Hall, Ill., but Ponshe was not the baby’s father.
While the toddler appeared to be fine the day after she was beaten, her heart stopped during an evening nap, prosecutors said. Prosecutors say her brain was slowly swelling since she was hit, which eventually killed her.
Lucy B. Rorke-Adams, senior neuropathologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said Thursday she believes the bruises on Burton’s head could have been caused by punches with a fist.
It’s not likely Burton suffered those injuries when she fell more than four feet into a crawlspace or when she ran into the tailgate of a pickup truck the day she and her mother moved into Ponshe’s home, Rorke-Adams said.
On Thursday jurors saw autopsy photos of the bruises covering the toddler’s scalp, some larger and deeper than others. Her spinal cord was also bruised near her neck and her lower back.
“She would have had to have dived into the crawlspace” to cause a head injury, Rorke-Adams said. Even if she did fall in head-first, she would have had to sustain other head injuries to cause the bruises on the sides of her head, she said.
The autopsy photos were shown on screens in the courtroom, and Ponshe looked down at his lap most of the time they were visible.
The statement Ponshe gave police after Burton died — that he hit her multiple times on top of her head — “fits in perfectly” with the bruises on the toddler’s head, Rorke-Adams said.
Defense attorneys noted Burton’s body did not have some markers of traumatic injuries, such as certain antibodies typically present at the site of the injury, skull fractures or torn retinas.
Ponshe’s attorneys also downplayed his observation to police that the girl was crabby in the 12 hours after she was injured, pointing instead to a statement Dunlap gave police saying her daughter seemed to be acting normal that day.
The trial is scheduled to continue Friday.