0

Trial begins in death of 3-month-old

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A tiny body lay in an upstairs bedroom, between a car seat and blue crib, wearing a white onesie and diaper. No blood. No swelling. By all outward indications, it was the accidental and horribly untimely death of a 3-month-old girl named Aubrey.

But an autopsy snitched on violence that no one else had mentioned.

Exactly who broke the infant's ribs, femur and caused a fatal hemorrhaging in her brain is the central question in the murder trial of her mother, Erica Graham, 24, which opened Tuesday afternoon in Gwinnett Superior Court.

Aubrey, born premature at 5 pounds in October 2008, lived with her mother and father, Mitchell Sigler, and 1-year-old sister in an apartment they'd recently moved into off Level Creek Road in Sugar Hill.

On the night of Jan. 6, 2009, authorities responded to a 911 call from Graham and found Aubrey dead on arrival. Graham was the only person home at the time, Assistant District Attorney John Warr told a jury of nine men and four women, with an alternate, during opening statements.

"Aubrey suffered a violent end to her life, and it was at the hands of the defendant," Warr said.

Graham, who wore a flowing, zebra-print dress and reading glasses, listened intently as her defense attorney, Deborah Fluker, pointed the finger at Graham's boyfriend, who'd had custody of their daughters all day while Graham was at work.

Fluker said police made "erroneous assumptions" about Graham's guilt and prematurely ruled out Sigler as a suspect. He'd left to visit a friend about 7 p.m. that night.

Both sides agree that Graham told authorities a string of lies about who'd been caring for the kids that day and even who Aubrey's father was. Those lies, Fluker posited, were meant to cover for Sigler, who was on probation and had an outstanding warrant for his arrest.

"All her lies did was cast the spotlight on her," Fluker told jurors.

Fluker said she'll call a pediatrician to the witness stand who will counter findings by Gwinnett's Medical Examiner. The pediatrician has reviewed the autopsy and concluded the baby did not die of Shaken Baby Syndrome, as the state believes, Fluker said.

Other evidence will show Aubrey was abused before her death, including rib fractures that were in "a state of healing" when she died and retinal hemorrhaging that Graham noticed a week prior to her death, Fluker said.

Later Tuesday, a Gwinnett police officer who responded to the scene testified that Graham seemed bizarrely unemotional that night.

Graham is charged with felony murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, false statements and child cruelty.