SKOWHEGAN – It could be weeks before a judge decides whether an 11-year-old girl who is accused of killing an infant is competent to stand trial.
Judge Charles LaVerdiere issued no ruling Friday after a two-hour hearing behind closed doors in Skowhegan District Court.
Kelli Murphy of Fairfield, who is charged with killing 3-month-old Brooklyn Foss-Greenaway of Clinton on July 8, attended the hearing, going in and out of the courtroom through a back door.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson said attorneys will file written motions in the case by the end of next week, and LaVerdiere will issue a decision after that.
The baby died while staying overnight at the home of Murphy’s mother, Amanda Huard.
Huard called 911 that night to report that the baby was not breathing. An autopsy revealed that the infant died from suffocation and had in her system trace amounts of a prescription medication that matched medication Murphy was taking. The infant reportedly was in a bedroom with the girl.
Friday’s hearing, which the judge closed to the public, was held to determine whether Murphy understands the severity and ramifications of the juvenile manslaughter charge against her.
Huard quickly left the courthouse when the hearing ended. She did not respond to a request for comment inside the courthouse and did not return a phone message left later Friday.
Nicole Greenaway, the infant’s mother, said she wanted to attend the hearing but was told by the Attorney General’s Office that she could not, so she opted to go to work, instead of “sitting at home just wondering what’s going on.”
Police say Murphy is the youngest person to be charged with manslaughter in Maine in at least 25 years.
In court Friday were Dr. Debra Baeder of the State Forensic Service, who was expected to testify, and John Martin, the attorney who represents Murphy. Also seen going into the courtroom were Maine State Police detectives Christopher Tupper and Jason Richards.
Baeder was summoned to the courtroom shortly after 9 a.m., and all of the key players had entered by 9:30 a.m. Notices blocked the windows to the courtroom.
In his office after the hearing, Martin spoke with Edwin Chester, a defense attorney in Portland who has represented juveniles facing serious charges. Chester is co-counsel with Martin in defending Murphy, and both men attended the hearing.
“I decided early on, given his experience, he should be part of the case,” Martin said.
Martin said he could not provide many details about the hearing, other than what Benson has said publicly. “It’s a waiting game,” Martin said.
Chester said the judge has three options: decide that Murphy is competent to stand trial, decide she is not competent or decide to have further evaluations done, at periods ranging from 60 to 365 days.
Under the Maine Juvenile Code, a competency ruling is necessary only when the court has a reasonable doubt about a juvenile’s competency to proceed in the case. It also sets the guidelines for a State Forensic Service examiner’s evaluation of a juvenile. In a case involving a child younger than 14, the burden is on the state to prove competence.
Martin would not say who testified at Friday’s hearing. Both attorneys said the judge can ask questions of anyone in the courtroom at such a hearing.
Martin would not say where Murphy is living. Officials have said that she has been in custody of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Greenaway said the judge’s decision to close the hearing left questions in her mind about the way the justice system is operating.
“I don’t think it should be closed because this is one way that the public would know that the justice system is actually working,” she said.
She said she expected to hear about the outcome of the hearing later from the Attorney General’s Office.
The DHHS issued a notice to Huard on Aug. 10 saying its review of the death showed that she neglected the 3-month-old who was left in her care. Huard has not been charged in the case.
According to the notice, Murphy suffers from significant behavioral problems, and the department contends that Huard failed to follow through on the required treatment, including ensuring that the girl was taking medication for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and attachment disorder.
The notice also says that Huard knew Murphy, who was then 10 years old, should not be babysitting children but Huard let her do so.
Deputy Attorney General William Stokes has said that Huard was not charged after the assessment by the DHHS because prosecutors have a higher burden of proof in a criminal case than caseworkers have.
— Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Matt Hongoltz-Hetling contributed to this report