Family denies fall from booster seat in murder trial

January 24, 2013 12:20:55 AM PST
The doctor who conducted the autopsy on the 17-month-old girl whose babysitter is now on trial for murder gave damaging testimony Wednesday.

Megan Martzen is accused of causing severe injuries to the little girl's skull and abdomen. The blonde locks that covered Ella Van Leeuwen's 17-month-old head were shaved off shortly after her death. Coroners needed an up-close look to see the injuries that led to her death in February 2009.

The judge would not allow cameras in the courtroom, and the autopsy pictures are too disturbing to show, but the photos show a child covered in bruises, mostly on her head.

Dr. Michael Chambliss conducted the autopsy. He says Ella suffered a very sizable skull fracture that could only be caused by a significant amount of force. Chambliss also noted substantial injuries to Ella's abdominal region -- also caused by a large impact, but not likely the same impact.

Prosecutors portrayed Ella's babysitter, Megan Martzen, as the culprit responsible for all the injuries in a moment of lost control. Martzen told police Ella fell about three feet off a bed, which Dr. Chambliss says does not explain all the injuries. But Martzen's attorney says Ella's parents told Martzen of another fall. This one was off a booster seat at home, the day before Martzen was babysitting.

Legal analysts say Martzen's team will have to go a long way to convince the jury that's what happened.

Ralph Torres explained, "You need forensic evidence to show it's reasonable, that it's plausible, that the defense position could have happened."

Defense experts coming next week are expected to say the booster seat fall could have started a chain of events, leading to the fall off a bed, and eventually, Ella's death. For his part, Dr. Chambliss was briefly convinced Ella's death was accidental when he was told she had fallen off a booster seat. But Ella's parents deny that she had any previous fall.

When asked his opinion Wednesday, Dr. Chambliss said Ella's death is unexplained, and he considers it a homicide.


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