Prosecutor drops motion in murder case involving alleged shaken baby syndrome

A prosecutor Thursday withdrew his request to introduce evidence of “other crimes and acts” when a former Baker day care worker stands trial in the 2010 killing of a 2-month-old infant, who allegedly was the victim of shaken baby syndrome.

The move by East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Steve Danielson means Ashley Reifer, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Brody Hopper, will not face questions about the broken arm that a 7-month-old child under her care suffered in 2008.

Lance Unglesby, who represents the 24-year-old Reifer, applauded Danielson’s decision following a brief hearing in the murder case.

“There’s just no evidence of mistreatment by Ashley,” Unglesby said in reference to the 2008 injury. “Mr. Danielson recognized how tenuous his evidence was.” Reifer was never charged in connection with the boy’s broken arm.

Danielson said afterward that withdrawing the motion to introduce “other crimes and acts” was the correct thing to do in terms of fairness to the defense and his ethical obligations as a prosecutor.

After speaking with several experts, Danielson said he came to the conclusion that he would not be able to show whether the broken arm the 7-month-old boy suffered in 2008 was the result of abuse or criminal neglect, or was just an accident.

“The right thing to do was just to withdraw the motion,” the prosecutor said.

Reifer, who is free on bond, has a 2 1/2-year-old boy, Unglesby said.

“She’s an incredible mother,” he said.

Dr. Bruce Wainer, who performed Brody’s autopsy, testified at a hearing in 2011 that the infant died Oct. 28, 2010, as a result of “traumatic brain injury,” also referred to as shaken baby syndrome.

Unglesby requested Thursday that his medical expert in Illinois be allowed to conduct his own tests on the child’s tissue. Danielson objected, saying the defense expert is allowed to review Wainer’s work but not conduct additional tests on the delicate evidence.

“The defense is asking us to redo what we’ve already done,” the prosecutor argued to state District Judge Chip Moore.

The judge scheduled a hearing for May 6 on Unglesby’s request. A trial date has not been set.

Outside the courtroom, Unglesby lambasted Wainer’s findings and said, “The science does not support this (second-degree murder) charge.”

“All the telltale signs of trauma are not there,” he added. “Wainer made an emotional finding, not a scientific one.”

Danielson countered outside the District Attorney’s Office that two doctors independently examined the evidence in Brody’s case and came to the same conclusion that Wainer reached.

Danielson has said previously in court documents that Brody’s mother brought him to Busy Bee Day Care Center on Groom Road at 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 28, 2010.

Day-care workers said his morning was routine and normal, and that the child was in the “exclusive care” of Reifer from 12:30 p.m. until his father picked him up at 5 p.m., the prosecutor said.

“When (the father) arrived to pick up his son, he saw that Brody had already been strapped into his car-carrying seat,” Danielson wrote. “When Ashley Reifer presented the car-carrying seat to (him), she did it in a manner where (he) could not see Brody’s face. She handed the car seat to (him) backwards, with the umbrella top concealing Brody’s head.

“Before he could finish securing the car-carrying seat in his vehicle, (he) saw a bloody colored fluid coming out of Brody’s nose. He immediately returned to Busy Bee and asked for something to clean Brody’s nose. Employees quickly realized that something was wrong when they started to unbuckle Brody. They observed that his body was limp and he was discolored,” the prosecutor wrote.

Brody was later pronounced dead at Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary.