Jury told mom accused in baby’s killing either selfish or psychotic — (Detroit Free Press)

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Detroit Free Press

Posted: 1:08 p.m. March 29, 2010

By L.L. BRASIER, FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

Shontelle Cavanaugh is on trial in her daughter’s smothering death

Shontelle Cavanaugh was either horrifically mentally ill or horrifically self-absorbed the morning she smothered her 9-month-old daughter in their Pontiac home. Jurors will have to decide.

Attorneys made opening statements in Cavanaugh’s murder trial this morning in Oakland County Circuit Court. Prosecutor Brett Chudler painted Cavanaugh, 28, as a conniving predator, weary of being a single mother, who planned to murder Simone so she would be free of her parental responsibilities.

“She is the one who snuffed out that baby’s life,” Chudler told the five women and eight men on the jury, as he stood pointing at Cavanaugh, who was sitting with her attorney at the defense table. “She chose to do it because that’s what she wanted to do…nothing made her do it but her own free will.”

Her attorney, Richard Convertino, told jurors that the evidence would show a young woman so psychotic at the time that she was hearing voices. “There is a different side to this tragedy, and those details are going to compel you to find Shontelle Cavanaugh not guilty,” he said. “There is no blame for this tragedy. This was a very sick woman who spiraled out of control.”

Cavanaugh was a graduate of Oakland University, living at home with her mother and other family members when she gave birth to Simone in August 2004.

She was diagnosed with postpartum depression and placed on medication.

Her family members are expected to testify in the trial that she grew increasingly ill, refusing to bathe or leave the house.

Her mother, Gina James, arrived home June 6, 2005, to find Cavanaugh holding her baby’s lifeless body.

In testimony this morning, Pontiac firefighter and paramedic Roman Prosser described how he arrived at the house with other paramedics and found the baby not breathing on the living room floor, with James crying. Cavanaugh, he said, was upstairs in a bedroom, gliding in a rocking chair.

“I needed to get her to look at me,” he said. “I was trying to get a response from her. She kind of glanced at me, then looked away.”

Cavanaugh is charged with open murder, meaning jurors can find her guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter. Should they decide she was insane at the time, as her attorneys claim, they can find her not guilty by reason of insanity.

There are typically 14 jurors hearing a criminal case. This morning, Judge Rae Lee Chabot dismissed one juror after learning that he has an embezzlement case pending in Oakland County Circuit Court.

Contact L.L.BRASIER: 248-858-2262 or brasier@freepress.com.

 

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Testimony opens in trial of mother accused of smothering baby to death

The Oakland Press

By ANN ZANIEWSKI

Posted: 03/29/10, 12:01 AM EDT | Updated: on 03/29/2010

An assistant prosecutor told jurors that Shontelle Cavanaugh intentionally killed her daughter because she thought the baby was an inconvenience.

But Cavanaugh’s supporters maintain she was suffering from post-partum psychosis and should be found not guilty.

Cavanaugh, a 28-year-old Pontiac woman, is on trial for the June 6, 2005, smothering death of her 9-month-old daughter, Simone. On Monday,  the prosecution and defense presented opening statements and witness testimony began. Jurors also watched Cavanaugh’s videotaped interview with police.

Cavanaugh says in the interview she is upset and feeling down. Giving short answers in response to detectives’ questions, she admits to putting her hand over the face of Simone, who had been crying, for about a minute.

When asked why she did that, she said she can’t explain it.

Assistant Prosecutor Brett Chudler told jurors that Cavanaugh’s actions were premeditated and deliberate.

“A life has been taken. This life was the most innocent kind of life, and yet, it was an inconvenient life,” he said.

Cavanaugh was an honor student who graduated with a science degree from Oakland University.

Defense attorney Richard Convertino said she was thrilled to have a baby but then suffered a psychotic breakdown. Cavanaugh reported hearing voices, he said, prompting a psychiatrist at the Oakland County Jail to put her on a number of strong medications.

“There’s no blame for this tragedy … (Cavanaugh is) a sick woman who spiraled out of control,” Convertino said.

The first witness was Pontiac Fire Lt. Roman Prosser, who said he responded to a call of a child not breathing and arrived at a house to find a motionless baby on the floor and her mother in another room upstairs, sitting in a rocking chair and not responding to his questions.

“I saw no tears, and that struck me,” Prosser said.

Emergency workers were called to the house after Cavanaugh’s mother, Gina James, returned from an errand and found Simone unresponsive in Cavanaugh’s arms, according to investigators.

Cavanaugh is charged with open murder, with alternate counts of felony murder, second-degree murder and manslaughter.

She has switched attorneys a number of times and there have been other delays in the case.

A jury was seated late last year but on the evening before attorneys were to present opening statements, Convertino was told that police had just located Cavanaugh’s videotaped interview with Pontiac officers.

Cavanaugh’s trial was rescheduled for March 11 but ended up being pushed back again. Convertino said the assistant prosecutor told him in the days before the trial that the video recording of the interview had been enhanced to improve sound quality. Convertino said he was then faxed a transcript of the interview that was incomplete.

Oakland Circuit Judge Rae Lee Chabot is presiding over the trial, which will resume Thursday.

Contact staff writer Ann Zaniewski at 248-745-4628248-745-4628 or ann.zaniewski@oakpress.com.