BELFAST — The manslaughter trial of Miranda Hopkins began Tuesday morning with the prosecution and defense delivering opening statements in a case about the death of the woman’s baby.

Hopkins, 32, of Troy, has been charged with felony manslaughter, punishable by up to 30 years in prison, in the death of her 7-week-old son, Jaxson. Her trial got underway Tuesday in Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast.

State prosecutors and defense lawyers paint different pictures of what happened to Jaxson. The prosecution contends that Hopkins didn’t intend to kill her son, but that she might have been criminally negligent.

The defense maintains that one of Hopkins’ other two sons killed the baby.

When an audio recording of her 911 call to police was played in the courtroom, Hopkins broke down crying and her attorney, Laura Shaw, comforted her.

In her opening statement, Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said Jaxson died not from natural causes or some tragic accident, but rather as a result of blunt force trauma. She outlined Hopkins’ day on Jan. 11, Jaxson’s last day alive: Hopkins saw her two sons off on the school bus, ran an errand with a friend, made dinner, and consumed alcohol. Jaxson was with her for the entire day.

Hopkins put the two other boys to bed on the other side of the trailer before bringing Jaxson into her room, Zainea continued, and though Hopkins contends she is a light sleeper, at no point in the night did she recall feeling someone come into the room or climb onto her bed, where her infant son was located. Hopkins did not report hearing her son cry out at any point, Zainea said. When Hopkins woke up around 1:30 a.m., she reached out, and when she felt for her son, she felt his cold and stiff arm, Zainea said.

When paramedics arrived, Zainea said, the boy had suffered multiple skull fractures, broken ribs and other injuries.

Zainea said the state did not have to prove motive, but under state law, persons are guilty of manslaughter when they recklessly or with criminal negligence cause another person’s death.

“Your common sense and reason tell you no one entered the bedroom,” the prosecutor said, and no one else injured Jaxson either in the bed or after removing him from the bed.

Christopher MacLean, Hopkins’ attorney, said the truth about what happened to Jaxson “is hidden in plain sight for all the world to see.” He said in the “chilling and haunting” 911 call Hopkins made to police, the jury could hear that Hopkins did not kill her baby. In the recording, played by both the prosecution and defense, Hopkins can be heard sobbing and wailing, crying out for help and asking why this happened.

MacLean described the difficult life Hopkins had led, one of poverty with two severely autistic sons; but he said Hopkins was a loving and caring mother, as evidenced by signs and symbols of love. However, the trailer home itself was also evidence of a life far from normal. The home was retrofitted with locks and barricades to keep Hopkins’ two autistic sons from getting out of the house or breaking into the refrigerator or pantry.

Hopkins consumed alcohol earlier in the day, as well as marijuana and Benadryl for congestion, he said. As she was putting her sons to bed, she fell asleep on their bedroom floor with Jaxson still out on the couch and not in her bedroom, MacLean said, apparently contradicting the prosecution’s description of the event. When she woke, he said, she was experiencing gall bladder pain as well as the lingering effects from alcohol.

“She turned on the lights and was greeted by a nightmare,” MacLean said.

Hopkins called 911, saying her infant son was unresponsive. The baby was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of the baby’s death is listed as blunt force head injuries.

Hopkins told authorities she woke up to find her baby cold, white and “beat to hell.” She said it was possible one of her two older, autistic boys might have crawled into bed with her and the baby and crushed or suffocated him.

She also told authorities that she must have “blacked out” and was “so drunk that she did not remember,” as she had drunk whiskey and had taken an antihistamine, according to a police affidavit.

Four witnesses were called to the stand, including Detective Sgt. Jason Richards, of the Maine State Police major crimes unit’s central division. Richards had recorded an interview with Hopkins after her son was pronounced dead at the scene, the majority of which was played into evidence before the trial concluded for the day, just short of 4:30 p.m.

In the recording, a sobbing Hopkins can be heard recounting parts of the day for Richards and another officer. She put her children to bed and remembered putting a tall baby gate up to block her bedroom, which she bought specifically because it was tall and would keep her other two children from coming in at night.

At one point in the recording, she said it must have been one of her sons in particular, since he was asleep on the couch while the other was in his bedroom.

“It must have been (the older boy),” she said in the recording, since he had been awake at some point in the night.

In the recording, Hopkins said she usually checks on all her sons at least twice a night, sometimes more if Jaxson awakened them. A sobbing Hopkins called Jaxson “her hope,” since the youngest boy was “supposed to be the one to look after the boys when I’m gone.” She said in the recording the events felt like “a bad dream. I want to wake up.”

Hopkins said in the recording she didn’t remember if the gate to her bedroom was fully closed, and said it was there mostly to give her peace of mind, since one of her other sons could climb over it. She later said again that she didn’t hear a sound that night or feel anyone get onto the bed. An officer’s voice tries to comfort her.

“What good is an answer going to do me?” she says into the recording. “My baby is dead.”

Another witness called to the stand, Cassandra McDonald, a Waldo County sheriff’s deputy, also said Hopkins had indicated her eldest son must have been the one to harm Jaxson, though MacLean pointed out her written report indicated a number of times that Hopkins did not specify which of her two sons — described by both defense and prosecution as “profoundly autistic” and nonverbal — might have done it. McDonald also said Hopkins said she felt guilty.

The second day of trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. today at the Waldo County Superior Courthouse.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis


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