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Megan Martzen may have deck stacked against her in murder trial

January 23, 2013 12:19:49 AM PST
The Reedley babysitter charged with killing a 17-month-old in her care may have the deck stacked against her, but legal analysts say the case could come down to a single piece of evidence.

Megan Martzen is on trial for murder and the jury heard the first evidence in the case Tuesday. Ella Van Leeuwen died from a fractured skull and other injuries. Her parents say a doctor told them there had to have been a massive impact. But Martzen said the toddler fell just three feet off a bed. And her attorney says Ella had a prior fall that's been forgotten or covered up.

A crowd of flowers bloomed in the Fresno County courthouse Tuesday -- each a reminder of a 17-month-old flower lover who died long before she herself could bloom.

Prosecutors blame Ella Van Leeuwen's death four years ago on her then-18-year-old babysitter, Megan Martzen. Ella was in Martzen's house when her deadly injuries happened and legal analyst Ralph Torres says prosecutors can just keep it simple at trial.

"There's no other way that it could happen but for the defendant causing the injuries," Torres said about how the prosecution should present the case. "So it's straightforward, supported by forensic doctors."

The judge won't allow cameras in court during the trial, but Martzen has made several previous court appearances -- both while in custody and pregnant herself, and after her family and friends raised money to bail her out.

Her attorney says Megan denies shaking Ella or throwing her against anything, as suggested by prosecutors. Instead, he says his expert doctors will testify that the worst injuries occurred at least 12 hours before Ella's final fall. Torres says that testimony could sway a jury -- even one that wants someone to pay for the death of a child.

"And if you have a prior fall, you have forensic doctors who say it's reasonable that it could happen that way, it would support a defense position," Torres said.

Martzen cut short an interview with police after the deadly incident. But her attorney, Jeff Hammerschmidt, says Ella's parents told the babysitter their girl had fallen off a booster seat the day before coming to Martzen's house. Both parents testified Tuesday. Both denied Ella had any prior fall.

Hammerschmidt says he does expect Martzen to take the stand. It could happen as soon as next week, but the trial is expected to last more than two weeks.


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