CLEARFIELD – On Wednesday afternoon, a jury found an Allport woman guilty of causing the 2013 death of her then-boyfriend’s toddler daughter.
Jennifer Ann Medzie, 22, was found guilty of criminal homicide/third-degree murder after the jury deliberated her case for approximately one hour and 15 minutes.
She was also found guilty on the charges of aggravated assault, F1, endangering the welfare of children, F3, simple assault, M1, and recklessly endangering another person, M2.
However, many of those charges will merge together when Medzie appears for her sentencing. She will be scheduled for sentencing within 60 days.
Medzie is facing a maximum of 40 years of incarceration due to her conviction of third-degree murder. Her minimum sentence will be determined by the judge.
District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. prosecuted the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Medzie was represented by defense attorney Robert S. Donaldson, Esquire. President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman presided over the trial, which lasted three days.
Medzie was on trial for causing “abusive head trauma,” to 2-year-old, Sophia Hoffman-Lauder. It resulted in her death days later on Nov. 17, 2013 at the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Medzie, who was 18 years old at the time, had moved in with the girl’s father, Cody Lauder, of Woodland in September of 2013 and was helping care for her daily while he was at work.
On the morning of Nov. 15, 2013, Sophia was rushed to the Clearfield Penn Highlands Hospital by emergency personnel. The girl was unresponsive and found to have severe head trauma; she was subsequently flown to Pittsburgh.
“It was perhaps one of the most meaningful cases I’ve ever worked on in my over 20 years as a prosecutor,” Shaw said in a media interview following the verdict.
“We finally got justice for baby Sophia. We’ve been fighting for her since 2013 … We worked years to secure a conviction, but it was worth it.”
Shaw thanked the criminal investigators with the Clearfield-based state police and the Attorney General’s Child Death Review Board for making the pursuit of justice possible in this case.
On Wednesday morning, Medzie took the stand in her own defense. She maintained the story that she’s given to state police investigators on several occasions.
The morning of Nov. 15, 2013, Medzie testified that shortly before 7:30 a.m., she got Sophia out of her pack ‘n play. She said the girl was lying awake, and they went out to the living room.
According to her, she undressed the girl and told her to go potty, which she did. Afterward, she said she began dressing the girl when she suddenly went limp and became unresponsive.
Medzie admitted to changing her story when she was arrested and jailed Aug. 25, 2016. That time, she said she was getting Sophia dressed near the coffee table, and she must have hit her head on it when she was picking her up.
In her testimony Wednesday, she claimed that she changed her story because investigators repeatedly asked her during interviews if the girl had hit her head on the coffee table.
Under cross-examination, Medzie agreed that she didn’t give this possibility to emergency personnel, medical staff at the hospital and to state police investigators, all while Sophia was fighting for her life.
Medzie also testified she was torn about her living arrangement with Cody. She wanted to be at her home in Allport, but she was also worried about the girl.
She implied that Cody was a “bad dad” and didn’t do as much as he could for his daughter. She said that if she could have, she would have taken the girl home with her.
Medzie’s attorney asked her about the “damning” Facebook message she’d sent her friend, Krisandra Evans, complaining she was sick and tired of watching Sophia and going to end up hurting her or herself. Medzie said she was just frustrated and never intended to act on it.
Under cross-examination by Shaw, Medzie teared up but continued to deny that she had ever intentionally or accidentally hurt Sophia.
In his closing, Donaldson argued that Medzie’s story remained substantially similar from November of 2013 until the time of her arrest. He also pointed jurors’ attention to the death certificate on which Sophia’s death was listed as undetermined.
Shaw countered by calling the case about murder. He said the girl had been seen at the hospital Nov. 14, 2013 and sent home. He said doctors would not have dismissed severe head trauma as “flu-like” symptoms.
When the girl’s father left for work the next morning, he said she was still fine and asleep in her pack ‘n play. Around 7:30 a.m., she was awake and interacting with Medzie.
Medzie, he said, was the last person the girl was with, and she could be the only person responsible for pummeling her six different times in the head.
While emergency personnel arrived and rushed Sophia to the hospital, Shaw reminded jurors that Medzie remained silent. When desperately prodded for information so doctors could help the girl, he said she repeatedly had no explanation.
According to Shaw, testimony from three medical experts indicated that Medzie’s story was “inconsistent with the science of the case.” He said investigators were “tenacious” and refused to accept the fact that Medzie wasn’t saying anything.
He also dismissed her claims after her arrest that Sophia must have hit her head on the coffee table.
“If that’s true, why not tell the state police Nov. 15, 2013?” Shaw asked. He added that Medzie admitted to shaking the 2-year-old girl twice in October of 2013, which requires a “powerful hatred.”
“For a brief moment, she wanted baby Sophia dead. She wanted to kill her,” he argued. “Evidence shows she had a fit of rage, and it is murder of the first-degree.”
When Shaw concluded his closing, he brought some jurors to tears by showing them a poster-sized photograph of Sophia. Her family also wept when he said the investigation and trial were about finally getting her justice because she is dead.