Alias James McLaughlin had been doing a fairly good job of being a new dad, it seemed. He wasn’t happy that his baby daughter was getting all the attention, but he answered the bell for his nighttime diaper and feeding duty, his ex-girlfriend said Thursday in court. He appeared to be fine with the responsibilities of fatherhood, she said, until the day Baby Ada wouldn’t stop crying and “He flipped out.”
“He threw stuff and said, ‘Why are you crying?’ Dalena Lam testified. “He was raising his voice, getting more angry, yelling, ‘Shut up! Give her the bottle!’ ” When the crying persisted, Lam told a Sacramento Superior Court jury, McLaughlin screamed at the girl, who was 21 days old and spread her 5-pound body weight across a 19-inch frame, “I hope you die!”
McLaughlin grabbed a bottle of formula and jammed it into the baby’s mouth, the little girl’s mother said, until “she was aspirating, choking up, spitting it out of her mouth, crying.” Lam told the jury McLaughlin shoved a pacifier in the baby’s mouth, that he “shook her, picked her up and threw her in the bassinet,” picked her up again and started “shaking her upside down,” by the ankles, hurtling her side to side “with her head wobbling, back and forth.”
Later in the afternoon of May 10, 2013, in the apartment where they lived in the 900 block of 43rd Avenue, Ada Ann Marie Lam-McLaughlin stopped breathing. The little girl was rushed to UC Davis Medical Center, where she died that day. Sacramento prosecutors have since charged McLaughlin, now 21, with murder and child abuse resulting in death. His trial got underway Thursday in front of Judge Marjorie Koller.
“Her life was brutally taken from her by the defendant,” Deputy District Attorney Sheri Greco told the jury in her opening statement. “She had a chance to live for 21 days, until her crying became too much for Mr. McLaughlin.”
An autopsy showed that the baby sustained a 3-centimeter skull fracture and that she suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. Defense attorney Robert J. Saria, in his opening, did not dispute that blunt-force trauma was the cause of death, but he told the jury it wasn’t a matter of murder, that the injuries, in his estimation, resulted from the father dropping the baby.
“There was no intent to kill,” Saria said. The lawyer added that McLaughlin did not purposely inflict any injury on the child, either, so the defendant should be acquitted on the child abuse charge. The killing, Saria said, was “consistent with ill-prepared children having children.”
McLaughlin had been enrolled in a batterer’s treatment program at the time of his baby’s death. Authorities in Placer County placed him in it for a physical confrontation with Lam, who testified Thursday that McLaughlin assaulted her in the 2012 case “because I went to a friend’s house and he didn’t want me to.”
Despite his participation in the program, McLaughlin, just a day or two before the death of his baby “socked me in the face,” Lam also testified. She said he punched her because she wouldn’t kiss him good morning.
The two of them were living at the time of the death in her uncle’s one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a floor in the living room while they perched the baby in the bassinet on a couch. Lam, 21, testified the baby woke them up around 4 a.m. When she failed in a 11/2 hour struggle to quiet the infant, she said McLaughlin got up and grew increasingly angry, she said, as the baby continued to cry.
Lam said he picked up Baby Ada as many as five times and threw her into the bassinet. Another time, he dropped her on the floor. When she intervened to protect the girl, McLaughlin grabbed her by the arm and bruised it with his fingers. He shoved her so hard in the chest that he bruised her there, too, and he pushed her into a couch and blackened her on the side, Lam testified, as the prosecutors displayed photos of her injuries to the jury.
The mother was not completely sure of the timeline, but at some point her daughter went limp. “She wasn’t moving or anything,” Lam said. She wanted to call 911, but McLaughlin told her not to: “He was scared somebody would find out that something was happening.”
They called their pediatrician instead, and the doctor told them to take the baby to the emergency room. When they were getting ready to go to the hospital, Baby Ada stopped breathing, Lam said, and she called 911.
Five days later, McLaughlin was arrested on suspicion of murder.
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.