Focus of David Paul trial shifting to coerced confessions, biomechanics

Nurse midwife and advanced nurse practitioner Rebecca Van de Water answers a question posed by public defender Eric Hedland (right foreground) during the trial of David Paul (sitting right foreground with back to camera). Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

Monday, June 10th update:

Defense witnesses continue taking the stand this week in the case of a Juneau man accused of physically abusing his girlfriend’s baby so severely that she died.

The next set of witnesses in the David Paul trial may include experts on biomechanics and false confessions.

The first indictment against Paul for the death of four-month old Rian Orr was thrown out, in part, because he may have been coerced into incriminating himself.

On Friday, Ana Schroth, property manager of the Coho low income housing apartment complex, testified about the apartment rented out by Jaki Orr and David Paul in the late summer and early fall of 2010.

“Were you aware of sort of a community attitude (at the complex) that existed after Rian Orr died?” asked public defender Eric Hedland.

“From what I heard, they were pretty mean to them,” answered Schroth. “They were putting garbage outside their unit, calling them names, accusing them, throwing cigarette butts at their doors. They didn’t feel safe going out.”

Schroth said that Orr abandoned her apartment approximately in March 2012 after Paul’s arrest and after Orr had given birth to his child.

“Oh, it was trashed. There was garbage, furniture, the carpet, it was in bad condition,” said Schroth. “There was clothing, there was baby furniture, baby toys, food all over the place, cigarette butts all over the place.”

Under cross examination by the prosecution, Schroth said Orr may have allowed others in and out of her home.

A doula and midwife at the Juneau Family Birth Center each testified that Jaki Orr was not gaining enough weight while she was pregnant with Rian and did not appear to be following nutritional advice.

Rebecca Van de Water, nurse midwife and advanced nurse practitioner, noted that Orr mentioned to a doula that she was smoking four cigarettes a day while she was pregnant, but she could not remember if Orr had denied smoking when asked by a midwife. Van de Water says Orr’s diet mainstays during pregnancy were chocolate and ice cream.

She’s a teenager. Maybe she doesn’t know, doesn’t believe that what you put in your body impacts your baby. Teenagers are sort of in that phase where they don’t necessarily understand that what they don’t impacts themselves or other people. So, that could be part of this. She had gone through an entire pregnancy of being told again and again and again and again how to eat, and she couldn’t put that into action for variety of reasons. At this time, she was saying ‘I will not do that. I can not do that. I won’t do the things that you’re asking me to do to turn this around, to grow a baby, to stop having premature contractions.'”

At that point, Van de Water said she did not have a client that she could work with. Orr was referred to a regular obstetrician because of an expected pre-term birth.

Even though Orr was no longer a client, Shayna Rohwer, doula at the Center, said she and David Paul attended Rian’s natural birth at the hospital. Rohwer said the birth went well, except for these comments by Orr:

“She repeatedly said ‘This isn’t what I wanted. This isn’t good. This isn’t right.’ About her baby, presumably. Not about the birth itself which is sad.”

Orr later appeared happy it was over, but physically detached and distant from the baby during Van de Water’s single visit afterward at the hospital. She remembered Paul as with the baby or holding the baby.

Also on Friday, a former teacher of Paul’s testified that he got a good grade and was attentive and responsible during a class in which students care for an electronic baby mannequin.

Friend Andrea Kihlmeyer also testified that Paul was caring and attentive to her toddler’s needs when Paul lived with them and acted as a babysitter for two years while she worked. Kihlmeyer, as she was excused from the witness stand, whispered to Paul “Jayce says hi and loves you” as she passed by the defendants table on her way out of the courtroom on Friday.

Original Saturday, June 8th story

Testimony continues next week in the case of a Juneau man accused of physically abusing his girlfriend’s baby so severely that she died.

The next set of witnesses in the David Paul trial include experts on biomechanics and false confessions. The first indictment against Paul for the death of four-month old Rian Orr was thrown out, in part, because he may have been coerced into incriminating himself.

On Friday, the property manager of a low income housing complex testified that mother Jaki Orr abandoned her apartment and left a mess after Paul was arrested. Some of the discarded items included cigarettes and food. It’s unclear if the items were left by Orr or someone who stayed with her in the apartment after Paul was arrested.

A doula and midwife at the Juneau Family Birth Center each testified that Jaki Orr, while pregnant with Rian, was not gaining enough weight and was not following advice about proper nutrition. Orr was later referred to a regular obstetrician because of an expected pre-term birth.

Earlier last week, Paul’s defense put on medical specialists opposed to the controversial Shaking Baby Syndrome that was in vogue twenty years ago. It specified that only a particular set of injuries could be attributed to shaking an infant.

Pediatric radiologist Patrick Barnes, who used to be an expert on the theory, now works to debunk it.

“That’s the point of evidence medicine,” Barnes said as he testified in the David Paul trial by videoconference. “We wouldn’t want doctors practicing the way they did in 1998 now that we’re in 2013.”

Barnes testified that Orr’s bone deformities and fractures were likely caused by rickets induced by a deficiency in vitamin D, calcium, or phosphorus, or a combination of all three.

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