Two doctors testify in Megan Martzen murder trial

January 31, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Two doctors, hired by the defense, took the stand Thursday in the murder trial of a Reedley babysitter. They insist the fatal injuries the toddler suffered were caused by two accidental falls.

Megan Martzen, 22, is charged with murder and child abuse in the death of 17-month-old Ella Vanleeuwen back in 2009. If convicted of the crimes, she faces life in prison.

The two doctors have already testified the toddler's injuries couldn't have happened from a short fall from a bed that Martzen described to police. Thursday, two more doctors agreed. The question is whether those injuries were accidental or caused by abuse.

The prosecution is standing firm in its belief that Megan Martzen murdered Ella Vanleeuwen at her home in Reedley three years ago. But Thursday, a pediatric forensic pathologist hired by the defense argued the toddler's injuries appear to be accidental and occurred just days apart.

Cameras were not allowed inside the courtroom during her testimony, but Dr. Janice Ophoven told the jury that scientific evidence points to multiple incidents. Incidents that are consistent with Martzen's testimony of a fall from a bed and a fall from a booster seat the day before.

Ophoven admitted she could not be precise in the exact timing of the alleged incidents because the forensic examiner did not take any samples of the fracture during the autopsy -- something she considers to be crucial pieces of information in an investigation. She believed the accidents happened somewhere between 12 and 14 hours apart.

Earlier in the day, retinal Surgeon Khaled Tawansy told the jury that he also believed Ella died as the result of multiple injuries. He said a second trauma to the head could have disrupted a blood clot from a previous injury which would have led to further bleeding and Ella's rapid decline.

When pressed by the prosecution on when the prior injury likely occurred, Tawansy said he did not know and that it could have been days, weeks, or months before. The prosecution says while Dr. Ophoven may have 30 years of experience analyzing injuries in children, most of her court appearances have been on behalf of defense attorneys. The question now is whether that will have any impact on the jury.


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