Arapahoe County District Court No. 05CR3691. Honorable John
L. Wheeler, Judge.
H. Coffman, Attorney General, Katherine A. Hansen, Senior
Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for
K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Ellen K.
Eggleston, Deputy State Public Defender, Dayna Vise, Deputy
State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for
and Nieto[*], JJ., concur.
Defendant, LaShawn Lynn Harris, appeals the judgment of
conviction entered on jury verdicts finding her guilty of
child abuse -- resulting in death and reckless endangerment.
We conclude that the trial court erred by admitting other act
evidence, and that this error was not harmless. We therefore
reverse and remand for a new trial.
In 2005, Harris lived with her two children, L.L. (four years
old) and O.W. (six years old), and her husband and his son,
S.H. (four years old). On July 25, S.H. accidentally fell
down the stairs at home and hit his head. Harris called 911,
S.H. was taken to the hospital, and he was diagnosed with a
subdural hematoma on the right side of his brain. S.H. was
discharged from the hospital on July 28.
As a result of the fall and resulting subdural hematoma, S.H.
began to experience seizures. On August 4, S.H. suffered a
seizure at home, and was readmitted to the hospital. Doctors
placed S.H. on anti-seizure medication and discharged him the
following day, August 5. Within several days of his
discharge, S.H. began to suffer multiple seizures per day.
Harris and her husband understood that they were not to call
911 or take S.H. to the hospital unless he had a seizure that
lasted more than ten minutes.
On the morning of August 22, Harris's husband was at
school and Harris was at home with L.L., O.W., and S.H. While
Harris was getting the children ready to leave the house,
something happened to S.H. that rendered him unconscious and
made it appear that he was sleeping. When Harris brought S.H.
out of the house and put him in the car with the other
children, he did not appear to be awake and was having
difficulty breathing. Harris then drove the three children to
her mother's house.
After arriving at her mother's house, Harris and her
mother decided to take S.H. to the hospital. Instead of
calling an ambulance, they drove S.H. to the hospital in the
family car. Just before arriving at the hospital, it appeared
that S.H. had stopped breathing. Harris's mother took
S.H. into the emergency room and Harris left to take L.L. and
O.W. to school. Harris then went to her own doctor
appointment before returning to the hospital.
Upon arrival in the emergency room, S.H. was not breathing,
but doctors successfully resuscitated him. Doctors conducted
a CT scan of S.H.'s brain around ten o'clock that
morning, and again at around three o'clock that
afternoon. They diagnosed him with a subdural hematoma on the
left side of his brain. This left-sided hematoma never
resolved and S.H. died from it on September 2.
The prosecution charged Harris, and she was ultimately tried
for first degree murder, child abuse -- resulting in death,
and reckless endangerment. L.L. and O.W. testified at trial,
and the court admitted their respective forensic interviews,
as well as testimony from people to whom L.L. and O.W. made
statements about what happened to S.H. on the morning of
August 22. Statements from both L.L. and O.W. indicated that
Harris was upset with S.H. while they were getting ready to
leave the house that morning, and L.L. stated in one of her
forensic interviews and to several other people who testified
at trial that Harris threw S.H. down the stairs and was
" whooping" him that morning. Harris did not
Numerous medical experts opined about what could have caused
the injuries that S.H. presented with at the hospital on
August 22. Prosecution experts testified that injuries like
those suffered by S.H. are typically caused by high impact,
blunt force trauma. Several prosecution experts also
testified that, based on the lack of such an event in the
history that Harris provided to doctors at the hospital, the
injuries were likely caused by nonaccidental trauma.
In contrast, the defense's medical expert testified that
nothing in S.H.'s medical record indicated that his
injury was the result of non-accidental trauma. He further
opined that, based on the differences between the morning and
afternoon CT scans on August 22, the left-sided hematoma that
killed S.H. was caused by a small accidental fall that
occurred within forty-eight hours before the morning of
August 22 and was exacerbated by a seizure that morning.
Additionally, on the prosecution's motion, the court
admitted evidence of prior acts pursuant to CRE 404(b). This
evidence included an incident that occurred in 2003 (the
L.L.'s father (not Harris's husband) and his
fiancé e testified that in 2003, when they went with
their infant child to pick L.L. up from Harris's
mother's house, Harris got into an argument with the
fiancé e. While the fiancé e was in the
driver's seat of her car with the infant in the back
seat, Harris approached the driver's side door on foot
and began yelling at the fiancé e. When the
fiancé e tried to drive away with her infant and L.L.
in the car, Harris got into her own car and intentionally
rammed it into the back of the fiancé e's car.
L.L.'s father and L.L. hopped out of the car, the
fiancé e drove away, and Harris drove after her. After
a brief chase, the fiancé e stopped, and Harris
intentionally drove her car into the fiancé e's
car a second time while the fiancé e was standing
beside it and the infant was still inside. The ...