Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The trial of Sharon Miller on a charge of negligent homicide stemming from the death of an infant in her care ended in a hung jury in state District Court in Chinook Friday. After hearing three days of testimony last week, the jury was sent to deliberate about 5:30 p.m. It sent the message to the court about 10:30 p.m. that it could not reach a verdict, and Judge John McKeon declared the proceeding a mistrial. Blaine County Attorney Donald Ranstrom this morning said he has not decided whether to pursue a new trial on the charge. He said he will discuss that possibility with law enforcement. “I haven’t come to any conclusion at this point,” Ranstrom said. Miller was charged after 6-month-old Jenna Unruh on Aug. 29, 2006, died as a result of drowning while in her care. Miller left Jenna in a bath seat in a utility sink With about 6 inches of water to change the diaper of another child who temporarily was in her care at the request of Jenna’s family. She returned to find Jenna’s head in the water, and called 911 at 9:18 a.m. An ambulance crew responded, performed CPR on the scene and then transported the infant to a medical facility, arriving at 9:31 a.m. where additional treatment was performed. Jenna was pronounced dead at the medical center at 10:21 a.m. In their closing arguments, the defense and prosecution painted starkly different pictures of the blame to be assessed in the death of Jenna. Defense attorney Carl White said Jenna’s accidental drowning was just that an accident and while many things could have changed the result and saved the infant, no one should be convicted. He likened the situation to the movie, based on a true story, “The Perfect Storm.” In that movie, a series of events lead to a situation where six men cannot survive while trying to return to port in a fishing boat. The series of events and situations that led to Jenna’s death also left no one to blame, White said. White cited testimony of John Walsh, a defense witness who is an advocate for child product safety standards and who said child bathing seats create a false sense that an infant is safe if left in the seat. “There’s nobody to blame here ,” Walsh testified before closing arguments began. “Nine out of 10 people would have done exactly what this person did.” Ranstrom during his closing arguments, said Miller should be held accountable it was her leaving Jenna alone that led to the infant’s death. “The child drowned because she was left alone for a significant amount of time,” Ranstrom said. Ranstrom said the death could have been prevented even if Miller had gone to change the diaper of the other child she could have taken Jenna with her, he said. “How easy a thing would that be to do?” Ranstrom asked the jury. He also said that the amount of water in which Miller was bathing Jenna also contributed to her death. Miller told investigating officers that the depth of the water in the sink may have been as much as six inches. Jenna’s mother, Katie Unruh, had testified previously that she had told Miller to use no more than three inches of water while bathing the infant. In his closing arguments, White said that many factors contributed to Jenna’s death, starting with her parents removing a safety arm and using the Safety 1st Tubside Bath Seat improperly. The seat, Walsh testified, is designed to be used in a standard bath tub, with the arm over the side of the tub to prevent the seat from tipping over. He testified that although the seat could not completely tip over in the utility sink that Unruhs installed so the seat could be used their bathtub was a recessed tub, in which the seats are not supposed to be used it could still rock, which could contribute to a child climbing out of or tipping over in the seat. In his closing arguments, White said that, while he commended the work of the dispatcher in calling an ambulance and the volunteer ambulance crew’s quick response and work to save the infant, the delay in response and the failure of the dispatcher to tell Miller how to perform infant CPR also contributed to Jenna’s death. White said no one, including Jenna’s family, should be held responsible for her death, but that actions including using the bath seat improperly and in violation of its instructions and warnings were all factors. He said the use of the bath seat which Walsh testified is dangerous Miller caring for two children, the other child crying and needing attention, and the modification to the bath seat “all came together to create a perfect storm. “That seat is a death trap and it is not Sharon Miller’s fault that it killed a child,” White said. In his final arguments, Ranstrom said it was a choice that led to Jenna’s death, not those factors. The choice was Miller leaving a child in water to change the diaper of another child, which had no risk of injury and death, rather than staying with a 6-month child in water, he said.