Judge won't force baby's mother to testify
A district judge this morning ruled against a motion to force Valerie James to testify at the trial of her former boyfriend, Robert Heck, who is accused of assaulting their infant son three years ago.
Olmsted County prosecutors Ross Leuning and Julie Germann had filed a motion Tuesday for a court order to, in effect, force James to testify as a state rebuttal witness.
James, 22, and Heck were the parents of conjoined twins Jordan and Jacob, both Nov. 9, 2006, in Rochester. Criminal charges were filed against both in early 2007 after Jordan James was taken to the Saint Marys Hospital emergency room with 25 fractures. He was two months old at the time.
This morning, Germann told the Judge Kevin Lund that the case against James had been resolved and that as part of her plea agreement she agreed to testify at Heck's trial.
Heck now is on trial, charged with first-degree assault, accused of causing the injuries. He also is charged with aiding an offender.
Lund was not persuaded that James' testimony would be proper rebuttal evidence and that if the prosecution was going to have her testify, it should have done so during earlier state testimony.
If Lund had allowed her rebuttal testimony, James would have been granted immunity, which would mean that nothing she says could have been used against her in her trial.
James originally was also charged with both offenses, but the first-degree assault charges against her were dismissed on order of a district judge. She had also been charged with aiding an offender, being an accomplice after the fact, and was scheduled to go on trial in July. Germann did not reveal terms of the plea agreement this morning.
Leuning told Judge Kevin Lund on Tuesday afternoon that they felt it was important to have her testify in light of testimony given by Heck. He noted that Heck has testified that only he and James were the infant's caretakers in the one-week period after Jordan was released from the hospital, to the time the couple took the infant into the emergency room with significant injuries.
Heck has testified that he didn't cause the injuries and has no idea how they occurred. James, in a trial in Blue Earth County over termination of parental rights, gave similar testimony. Leuning said he thinks her testimony would be consistent in this case. He said James is a critical witness. He said he does not believe that she will point the finger at Heck, but that "she would be ruling herself out" as the person who assaulted Jordan.
The judge has suggested giving attorneys Thursday to prepare closing arguments, and to hear the arguments Friday. He then would take the matter under advisement over the weekend and announce his verdict in court Monday or Tuesday.
Prior to the start of the trial, Heck waived his right to a jury trial, choosing to have a judge hear the case and reach a verdict. Testimony has been going on for more than a week.
Heck, 30, was on the witness stand Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning. He denied harming Jordan in any way and disagreed with statements made by nurses and doctors about how he responded to Jordan during hospital visits.
In her cross-examination, Germann called attention to what she said were many inconsistencies in Heck's testimony at this trial and his testimony during the parental rights termination trial.
She also focused on testimony about Heck's temper.
"You acknowledged you had a temper problem?" she asked.
"Yes," Heck said, adding that it is "family frustrations."
But Germann said former girlfriend Huong Ly, who testified to being assaulted by Heck, wasn't family, yet that his temper extended to her.
"It was frustration," Heck said.
Germann asked if it wasn't true that at the time the twins were born, he wasn't working and money was tight.
"You didn't have money for gas or cigarettes," she said. He conceded money was tight.
"You had two premature, critically ill infants and another 10-month-old baby. Money was tight. You were staying at the Ronald McDonald House," she said.
Heck agreed, saying it was a stressful time, but said it also was a happy time.
Germann said Heck had testified that Jordan had not cried much during the weekend the family went to Mankato, where the couple first noticed his bruises and swollen thighs.
Heck said that was true.
Germann then pointed to his testimony at the termination trial, where he said Jordan cried so much he lost his voice, and that he screamed when Heck tried to change his diapers.
Germann questioned, too, whether it was true that Heck never told anyone about dropping Jordan from a sitting position while feeding him until two months after the fact. He said it was true.
"You said you loved your kids, all of them," she said.
"On Jan. 11 (the day the couple took Jordan to the emergency room) many people asked you about Jordan's condition. They all asked about what may have caused the injuries. You gave theories."
Heck said he did.
"But you never once told them Jordan had been dropped to the ground," Germann said.
"No," Heck conceded.
Heck testified that Valerie James had called nurses and her mother, concerned about the bruises and swelling of Jordan's legs when they were in Mankato.
Heck said the swelling seemed to improve, then got worse over a period of days.
Germann asked whether he ever took Jordan to the doctor or emergency room in Mankato. He said no.
The family returned to Rochester on Jan. 8. Germann asked whether he took Jordan to see a doctor about the swollen legs. He said no, not until Jan. 11.
Defense attorney Bill Wright called James' parents and one of her friends, Corey Helget, as character witnesses. Wendy and Hugh Scott James both testified that in their opinion, Heck was a good father.
Wendy James, who was once a certified nursing assistant, said Valerie called her on Jan. 5, concerned about the bruises on Jordan's legs. She said she went to their mobile home and looked at the infant and said it was similar to bruising and swelling she had seen on her own children following immunizations. She told the couple to apply heat and ice. She testified that Jordan was not crying.
But Germann pointed to Wendy James' testimony at the termination trial, where she was quoted as describing the bruises as "huge," the length of half a finger. Germann read from the statement that James told police investigator Sherry Bush, saying she asked Valerie after seeing the bruises whether someone had "strapped him down and grabbed his legs really hard to hold him down" when giving the shots. James testified Tuesday she did not recall making that statement.