AUGUSTA — An Augusta man was acquitted Thursday of a charge of endangering the welfare of his 2-month-old daughter in 2011 by withholding nutritional care.
Jedidiah D. Watson, 34, was cleared of wrongdoing by Justice Donald Marden after the state presented its evidence. Watson’s attorney, Jeffrey Towne, said his client was relieved at the outcome.
“I hope he’s able to move on in the future with his daughter,” Towne said Friday.
Deputy District Attorney Fernand LaRochelle said the baby weighed 5 pounds, 1 ounce, when she was discharged from MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta several days after her birth, steadily gained weight for a while, but returned to her birth weight Nov. 7, 2011, at her two-month checkup.
Larochelle had told jurors in his opening statement “that this defendant allowed the child’s physical condition to deteriorate over a period of time to the point that when she was admitted (to the hospital), she was in a state of dehydration and partial starvation. The state regards that as criminal.”
Both parents of the child were charged with assault and endangering the welfare of a child.
The baby’s mother, Sandra Watson, pleaded guilty in Augusta 2013 to endangering the welfare of a child and was sentenced to a fully suspended 364 day jail term and placed on probation for a year. The assault charge was dismissed in exchange for her plea.
Sandra Watson was the first witness at the trial, describing for jurors a difficult pregnancy and the joint decision by her and her then-husband that she would breastfeed this baby, unlike her previous four children.
“We’re not bad people. We’re not monsters who would starve our daughter. We love our daughter,” she said. She began crying on the witness stand as she spoke.
She told jurors that she did not realize her breast milk had mostly dried up at some point after the first month, and that because she saw the baby every day, she didn’t notice the gradual change. “I don’t have a reasonable explanation for my daughter’s weight loss,” she said.
Sandra Watson said she was under a heavy financial strain and might have been suffering from postpartum depression, but she said once the child was hospitalized, the state began an investigation.
“Everybody only cared about what they could do to us as parents,” she said.
She said both she and Jedidiah Watson had taken the baby to all her medical checkups and weigh-ins, which occurred about two weeks apart. In most cases, they walked to the pediatricians’ offices and the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program office in the same building in Augusta.
Towne said the judge indicated he granted Jedidiah Watson’s acquittal on charges because he found it was more of a negligence situation and the state failed to prove knowing or intentional conduct on the part of the parent. Towne told jurors in his opening statement, “The state has to prove Jedidiah Watson cruelly treated his infant daughter. The evidence in the case will not support that.”
District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said the child, who is now 2 1/2 years old, is not living with either parent and “is doing fine.”
“It was a very sad case,” she said. “I think we made the right decision to prosecute it, but I respect the judge’s decision.”
Jedidiah Watson was indicted on the charge in September 2012 and was free on bail.
Both the prosecution and Towne told jurors the infant was diagnosed at that age with “failure to thrive.” According to the National Institutes of Health, that means the child’s weight and rate of weight gain is much lower than those of similar age.
In Jedidiah Watson’s case, a different judge dismissed the assault charge on Nov. 19, 2013, “because the parties agree that the assault charge in this matter is not based on physical contact between defendant and the alleged victim.”
Sandra Watson testified that Watson, to whom she is no longer married, “had been involved in her life all the time up until they took her from us.”
The baby was hospitalized at age two months and taken into state custody.