CLEARFIELD – On Tuesday afternoon, the commonwealth rested its case against an Allport woman who has been accused of causing the 2013 death of her then-boyfriend’s toddler daughter.
Jennifer Ann Medzie, 22, has been charged by Clearfield-based state police with criminal homicide, aggravated assault, F1, endangering the welfare of children, F3, simple assault, M1, and recklessly endangering another person, M2.
District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. is prosecuting the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Medzie is being represented by defense attorney Robert S. Donaldson, Esquire. President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman is presiding over the trial.
Medzie has been accused of causing “abusive head trauma” to 2-year-old, Sophia Hoffman-Lauder, which resulted in her death Nov. 17, 2013 at the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Dr. Abdulrezak Shakir, a pathologist with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office, was the first medical expert to testify for the commonwealth on Tuesday.
He conducted an autopsy examination on Sophia on Nov. 20, 2013. He reviewed multiple areas of trauma that the girl had suffered to her head, torso and extremities.
He ultimately concluded she died from global hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, which occurred due to bleeding in several areas of Sophia’s skull and her brain swelling.
It put her brain under increased pressure, and it was not receiving enough oxygen and blood. It was the result of the blunt force trauma to her head, he said.
Shakir, however, was unable to determine the manner of death. During his testimony, Shaw presented Shakir with a statement Medzie had given to investigators with the state police, claiming the child was fine and then suddenly became unresponsive.
Shakir said that wasn’t possible and something traumatic must have happened to the girl. He said Medzie’s statement would make him suspicious of her and possibly affect his opinion on the manner of death.
When Donaldson asked if he would possibly change his opinion from undetermined to accidental instead of homicide, Shakir said that would have made it a “very forceful accident.”
Dr. Adelaide Eichman, of the Child Advocacy Center at the UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, was requested to conduct a consult of Sophia’s case on Nov. 15, 2013.
She gathered medical records and history from various other sources and interviewed the girl’s father. She also conducted her own examination of the girl.
According to her, Sophia could not breathe on her own, had bruises about her body and had lost patches of hair. Her pupils were dilated and didn’t respond, and she said this was indicative of serious neurological injuries.
She found the girl had suffered from bilateral subdural hematomas, or bleeding on both sides of her brain; brain swelling; and multiple retinal hemorrhages, or bleeding in the retinas at the back of both eyes.
Eichman concluded the girl was the victim of abusive head trauma, which was previously known as shaken baby syndrome, and she would have showed symptoms very quickly.
When Shaw asked if Sophia’s injuries were consistent with having hit her head on a coffee table, she said they were not from “one bump on the head” and much more traumatic.
Dr. Harry Kamerow, a pathologist, was the third and final medical expert to testify for the commonwealth. He was provided the case file for Sophia and requested to review her medical and autopsy reports.
Kamerow concurred with Shakir that the cause of death was global hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy resulting from blunt force trauma to the head. However, he ruled that her manner of death was homicide because the only way her injuries could have occurred was if someone had assaulted her.
The commonwealth’s final witness was Trooper David Patrick, a criminal investigator with the Clearfield-based state police.
He was a part of investigators’ interviews with Medzie, including on Nov. 15, 2013 at the Clearfield Penn Highlands Hospital. During this interview, he was joined by retired Corporal Mary Jane McGinnis.
Shaw played the investigators’ first interview with Medzie for the jury. Medzie immediately claimed she didn’t know what had happened to Sophia.
She said it was a “normal” day and she got the girl out of her pack ‘n play just before 7:30 a.m. The girl walked out to the living area, used her potty and Medzie started changing and dressing her.
According to Medzie, she’d taken off the girl’s pajamas, put on her pull-up and had her socks and pants on. While putting her shirt on, she said the girl “died, fell asleep, went into shock or something” in her arms.
She told investigators that she didn’t know what to do, so she called her boyfriend’s step-mother, Brandi Lauder, who lived nearby at 7:31 a.m.
But she said she thought Sophia had fallen back asleep from being sick, and said she’d be down in about an hour or so. Medzie said this prompted her to call her friend, Krisandra Evans, at 7:43 a.m.
Medzie said it wasn’t until Evans arrived and called Brandi Lauder that she came to help. She began to weep, saying that she knew she had done the wrong thing, and she should have called for an ambulance first instead of waiting until around 8:45 a.m. when Evans did.
When investigators asked specifically, she denied that she’d injured Sophia or that she’d hit her head. Even when they stressed the importance of finding out what had happened to help the doctors better care for the girl, she continued to say she didn’t know anything.
When asked by McGinnis about how she felt for caring for her boyfriend’s daughter, she said she didn’t mind it. Although she felt she had a good relationship with him, she admitted she felt used a little bit.
She expressed that she was really stressed because she was initially to care for Sophia a couple days a week and it turned out to be every day.
She also said she’d dropped out of school to move in with her boyfriend, he helped very little with caring for his daughter and she hadn’t been able to enroll in Cyber School.
At the conclusion of the interview recording, Shaw asked Patrick if investigators had interviewed Medzie on other occasions. He said yes and they were all substantially similar.
Patrick said Medzie didn’t change her story until the day she was arrested and charged in the case Aug. 25, 2016. Then, she tried to say Sophia had hit her head on the coffee table when she picked her up on Nov. 15, 2013.
Patrick also explained to jurors that investigators didn’t receive an autopsy report until August of 2014. He said while it had determined the cause of death, the manner of death was still undetermined.
He said they had the case reviewed by the Attorney General’s Child Death Review Board, and it took until April of 2015 for a hearing to be scheduled. The majority felt it was a homicide case, and investigators were directed to find an expert pathologist.
Investigators initially had found an expert in Erie, but they removed themselves due to a conflict with the case. He said Kamerow was ultimately requested to conduct the review and ruled it a homicide, resulting in the criminal charges filed against Medzie.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Courtroom No. 1 at the Clearfield County Courthouse.