Alias James McLaughlin had already made the key admissions to the detective about his role in the killing of his 21-day-old daughter, cradling a baby mannequin during a police interview and showing his swift movements in placing the crying little girl on his living room floor.
“I guess you could say I put her down angrily,” McLaughlin told Detective Mark Johnson, demonstrating how he laid the baby down and how “I did hear the back of her head kind of cling against the ground.”
After McLaughlin showed what he did, Johnson momentarily departed the interview room at Sacramento police headquarters and left the 22-year-old suspect alone with the doll, with the video camera still rolling.
McLaughlin picked up the mannequin and cradled it again.
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“Has Daddy set you free now?” McLaughlin continued in the video. “Has Daddy set you free? You know, I just miss you, baby girl. I just want to see you one more time, just hold you one more time. I just want to hold you. I’m sorry. Daddy is so sorry. Daddy is so sorry. Daddy is so sorry. Daddy didn’t mean it. You know Daddy loves you. You know Daddy loves you. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean it.”
Deputy District Attorney Sheri Greco played the tape on Monday to a Sacramento Superior Court jury in McLaughlin’s murder trial in the killing of baby Ada Ann Marie Lam-McLaughlin. Greco rested her case Tuesday, and defense attorney Robert Saria also concluded his without calling any witnesses. The lawyers are expected to present closing arguments today before the case goes to the jury for deliberations.
Last week, the baby’s mother, Dalena Lam, the defendant’s girlfriend, testified how McLaughlin “flipped out” the morning of May 10, 2013, in their Sacramento apartment. Lam told jurors how McLaughlin berated her over Ada’s crying, how he jammed a pacifier in the girl’s mouth, how he all but force-fed her out of her bottle in a failed effort to quiet her, and how when none of it worked, he shook the baby by her ankles, before he forcefully laid her down on the living room floor. When Lam tried to intervene, she testified McLaughlin pushed her away with enough force to bruise her arms and chest.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Gregory Reiber picked up the story Tuesday. He provided the commentary while the prosecutor showed the jury what subdural hemorrhaging looks like, all pretense of abstraction wiped away when Greco displayed the autopsy photographs of Baby Ada’s head with the scalp removed. Reiber then traced with his red-dotted laser pointer on the courtroom movie screen the 3.8-centimeter crack near the top of the girl’s skull, and he told the jury what it was seeing when Greco switched on another photographic display depicting the subarachnoid hemorrhage deep in the recesses of the baby’s brain that resulted from the fracture.
Such profuse bleeding “is very typical of a severe diffuse brain injury,” Reiber told the jury. “Basically, the entire brain was injured,” he said, putting the damage “at the very high end of the scale for traumatic brain injury for an infant.” The bleeding and the swelling in such cases is so severe, Reiber said, “it basically causes multiple centers of the brain to shut down,” including the one that governs breathing.
The size of the fracture suggested a head-first fall from about 1 meter to a hard, flat surface such as a linoleum floor, or possibly one with a carpet on it, Reiber surmised. The extent of the brain injury, the doctor said, is consistent with a fall from about 6 feet or more.
“This is a very severe amount of force,” Reiber testified.
He showed the jury exactly how much force he thought went into Baby Ada’s injury. The prosecutor handed him a baby mannequin about the same size as the girl – 19 inches in length, 5 pounds in weight. The doctor grasped the doll left and right at its midsection with both hands. He held it upside down facing away from him, and he slammed it head first into the railing of the witness stand, with a crack that reverberated into the back row of Judge Marjorie Koller’s courtroom.
“It would be like that,” Reiber said, as courtroom observers gulped.
McLaughlin sat impassively during the testimony and the photo displays of his dead baby girl.
He chose not to testify in the trial, leaving his interview with Johnson as the only personal account that the jury will see concerning what happened in the one-bedroom apartment on 43rd Avenue in Sacramento’s Little Pocket neighborhood.
In his interview with the detective, McLaughlin said he grew up in Sacramento and North Highlands, moved away for awhile to Denver and Nebraska, never finished high school and worked as a home health care assistant who attended to his dying grandfather. He admitted to a misdemeanor battery of Lam two years ago in Rocklin.
He told the detective at first that it was his understanding that baby Ada died while choking on her regurgitated milk. One time when Johnson left and returned to the interview room, McLaughlin perused a car magazine and tried to start up a conversation comparing and contrasting Mustangs, Camaros and Corvettes. The detective engaged him for a few moments before cutting off the car conversation and saying, “We gotta talk about more important stuff,” such as, “you know, your baby.”
McLaughlin eventually discarded the aspiration story to tell Johnson how he “angrily” laid the baby on the ground and heard the sickening sound it made with his daughter’s head.
“Just the impact of me going like this, and the force – that’s all I did,” McLaughlin said. “And I heard – I knew at that moment. I knew at that moment.”
Over the next few hours on the day of the death, authorities said Baby Ada grew cold. They said McLaughlin and his girlfriend tried putting her in a hot bath. When the girl stopped breathing, they called 911; at 3:01 p.m. Doctors at UC Davis Medical Center tried to revive Baby Ada, but they pronounced the girl dead at 6:55 p.m.
On the videotape, Detective Johnson returned to the interview room while McLaughlin was cradling the doll and apologizing to his daughter. Johnson told McLaughlin he was being arrested for murder.
“You put her down in an angry way,” Johnson told McLaughlin. “You heard, and you knew what happened.”
“I didn’t murder her,” McLaughlin responded.
“You fractured her skull and it killed her,” the detective countered.
“I didn’t murder her, sir. … I need to speak to someone.”
“OK,” Johnson said, before telling McLaughlin he first needed to remove all his body piercings. “I need you to take your jewelry out, ’cause you can’t go to jail with your jewelry on.”
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.