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Murder trial weighs man's intent in toddler's death

NEW PORT RICHEY — The question in court this week is not whether baby Jasmine Chambers died in the care of Jeremy James Kirkpatrick. She did.

The question is not whether his actions caused her death. They did.

The question is this:

Was what happened to his girlfriend's daughter an accident or was it murder?

The first full day of the Kirkpatrick trial included attorneys' opening statements, testimony from 10 state's witnesses and the playing of a 911 call. The trial is expected to run through Thursday.

There's a lot of evidence against Kirkpatrick, 26, a former day laborer and mental health technician. Prosecutor Mike Halkitis' opening statement was pretty long. Public defender Dean Livermore's opening statement was quite short.

Livermore told the jury that he was hoping for a conviction on the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter rather than premeditated murder.

"We are not contesting his responsibility," Livermore said.

"He never meant to kill her," he added. "He never meant to hurt her."

The background:

April Chambers, the teenage mother of 13-month-old Jasmine Chambers, lived with her parents at their home in New Port Richey. So did Kirkpatrick.

The two of them had been boyfriend and girlfriend for a few months.

On March 21, 2006, she had to go to work in the evening — she was a dancer at the Players Club in Hudson — and for the first time ever she left her baby with Kirkpatrick.

Jasmine had four teeth, blue eyes and curly blonde hair. She was learning to walk. She weighed 22 pounds and was 2 feet 4.

Kirkpatrick weighed 200 pounds and was 6 feet 4.

The 911 call came in about 7 p.m. Jasmine was not breathing when emergency workers arrived.

She was pronounced dead a short time later at Morton Plant North Bay Hospital.

Kirkpatrick told everybody that Jasmine had fallen off the couch and bumped her head. That's what he told April Chambers. That's what he told her family. That's what he told the emergency workers, the workers at the hospital and the people from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

The next day, though, April Chambers called him, and the Sheriff's Office was recording the call. The call went on for two hours.

Kirkpatrick, according to a sheriff's report, finally admitted to battering the baby because he couldn't stop her from crying.

"I snapped," Kirkpatrick said on the call.

On Tuesday in court, family members said on the stand that Kirkpatrick often got frustrated with Jasmine's crying and sometimes was rough and aggressive with her.

Emergency workers said that when they arrived that evening the baby had no pulse and was naked on the tile floor in the living room by the couch.

The medical examiner who did the autopsy was asked about Jasmine's injuries.

He said she had cuts, scrapes and bruises all over her body. Her head, her face, her chest, her back: 47 separate bruises, he said.

He also said she had hemorrhaging in one of her kidneys and also in one of her eyes. He said she had bruising, bleeding and swelling in her brain.

He showed the jury pictures.

Halkitis, the prosecutor, asked the medical examiner if those injuries could have come from an accidental dropping.

He said no way.

Cause of death?

"Blunt force trauma."

Manner of death?

"Homicide."

April Chambers, now 21, testified late in the afternoon. She was asked about her recorded phone call with Kirkpatrick.

First, she said, Kirkpatrick told her the baby fell off the couch. Then he said he dropped the baby. Then he said he dropped the baby twice.

Then he said he shook the baby. Then he said he smacked the baby. Then he said he did it again.

Then he said he squeezed the baby until she stopped breathing and her blue eyes rolled back in her head.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6244.

Murder trial weighs man's intent in toddler's death 10/28/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 31, 2008 8:56pm]
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