According to its foreman, the real-life experiences of the members of a Sacramento Superior Court jury played a big role in the panel’s relatively quick verdict Thursday that found Alias James McLaughlin guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his 21-day-old baby girl.
“There were a few people in there who have young children, and a few others with grandchildren, and it was beyond their comprehension that someone could handle a baby so roughly,” jury foreman Alexander Hamilton said in an interview after the verdict came back.
The panel needed barely three hours of deliberation in finding McLaughlin, 22, responsible for the May 10, 2013, blunt-force-trauma killing of his infant daughter, Ada Ann Marie Lam-McLaughlin, when she wouldn’t stop crying after waking up just before dawn.
Jurors also found McLaughlin guilty of felony child abuse resulting in great bodily injury or death. The second count carries a maximum term of 25-years-to-life – more time, even, than the 15-to-life that comes with second-degree murder.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
Judge Marjorie Koller scheduled McLaughlin’s sentencing for Feb. 27.
McLaughlin admitted in an interview with police five days after the killing that he had “angrily” set down his baby when he and his girlfriend could not pacify Ada on the day of her death.
The girlfriend, Dalena Lam, testified that McLaughlin also shoved a pacifier into the baby’s mouth, tried to force-feed her milk with a baby bottle and held her by the ankles and shook her. McLaughlin also shoved Lam aside severely enough during the incident to bruise her arm and chest.
At one point, McLaughlin also exclaimed to the baby, “I hope you die,” according to Lam’s testimony.
“Baby Ada was one of the most vulnerable victims I have seen, and the brutality of her death is inexcusable,” Deputy District Attorney Sheri Greco said in an email after the verdict. “I appreciate the jury for evaluating the evidence and reaching a verdict that holds the defendant accountable for his conscious disregard for human life.”
Defense attorney Robert Saria argued for voluntary manslaughter but did not fault the jury for its finding.
“The facts were strong,” Saria said outside the courtroom. “Having talked to a juror, I do believe they considered the evidence and considered the arguments. That’s all you can ask a jury to do.”
Hamilton, the jury foreman, said the panel wavered a little between manslaughter and murder before reaching its verdict after it determined “what was reasonable behavior for a normal person.”
McLaughlin did not testify during the trial, but the jury got a good look at him in his videotaped interview with Sacramento police Det. Mark Johnson five days after the killing. In the interview, which was played in court, McLaughlin admitted he set the baby down on the living room floor of their Little Pocket apartment with an inordinate level of force and that he heard a “clink” when the infant’s head hit the ground.
The videotape also showed McLaughlin, when the detective left the interview room, cradling a baby mannequin and saying “Daddy is so sorry” and “I didn’t mean it.”
“I felt that he had hurt his cause by simply saying he heard the thud and he knew what he had done,” Hamilton said.
The foreman said the jury also was moved by the testimony of forensic pathologist Dr. Gregory Reiber, particularly his demonstration of the force he believed it would have taken to inflict the head injuries that proved fatal to baby Ada.
Reiber, in his demonstration, took a baby doll and smashed it head-first on the rail of the witness stand.
“When he demonstrated how hard that baby hit the witness stand, he was pretty angry when he put that baby down,” Hamilton said of Reiber.
Cynthia Peterson, the baby’s great-grandmother and grandmother of Dalena Lam, wept silently at times during the trial. She said Thursday she felt “very blessed” by the verdict “and that justice has been served and that he is guilty.”
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.