Girl's testimony disallowed in murder trial
By Tom Larson
Family members of a child allegedly murdered by his father took the stand in the fourth day of the man's trial on Thursday, but perhaps the most compelling -- and potentially most damning -- testimony will not be heard in the case.
Shimon Cohen and his mother, Rosalyn Cohen, testified Thursday in Stevens County District Court in Morris in the case involving the death of their nephew and grandson, five-month-old Paul Marcus Cohen, allegedly at the hands of the baby's father, Jurez LeMar Slaughter, in June 2006.
But Stevens County District Court Judge Gerald Seibel, after a somewhat unorthodox competency hearing, ruled that testimony from Paul Cohen's half-sister, McKenzie Cohen, who will be 4 in September, could not be entered into the trial record.
Slaughter, 24, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Paul Cohen, in June 2006. Prosecutors allege that Slaughter caused the severe head injuries on June 2, 2006 that ultimately led to Cohen's death on June 9, 2006 after seven days on life support.
Slaughter initially told medical personnel and law enforcement investigators that he found Cohen laying face down in a pillow on June 2, 2006 in an apartment he shared with the baby's mother, Marnie Cohen, and her daughter, McKenzie. Later, as overwhelming medical evidence indicated that several severe head injuries were the cause of Paul Cohen's death, Slaughter claimed he tripped and dropped the baby onto a footstool.
Slaughter was charged in Stevens County District Court in September 2006 and waived his right to a jury trial. Seibel will decide the case.
Shimon Cohen, the brother of Marnie Cohen, said he was working his jobs as a paramedic and Registered Nurse at North Memorial Hospital in Minneapolis when he received a call that Paul Cohen was being airlifted from Morris to Children's Hospital in Minneapolis.
Shimon Cohen, 27, testified that he arrived at Children's Hospital before Marnie Cohen, Slaughter, Rosalyn Cohen and McKenzie Cohen.
At one point after Paul Cohen's arrival, Shimon Cohen testified that he was alone in the baby's hospital room with McKenzie Cohen, and that McKenzie Cohen made an unsolicited comment about what had happened to her brother. In earlier testimony, it was apparent that McKenzie Cohen had stated that Slaughter hit Paul Cohen's head on a door.
Twice the defense objected to prosecution requests that Shimon Cohen testify about what McKenzie told him. Shimon Cohen did testify that McKenzie showed "in an animated gesture what she said."
Initially, when Shimon Cohen asked the defendant what happened to the baby, Slaughter repeated his claim that he found the baby face down in a pillow. Cohen said that when his sister was informed of the head and brain injuries, she "was amazed, bewildered, lost and distraught."
The prosecution summoned McKenzie Cohen to testify, and Seibel took the somewhat unusual step of taking off his robes and meeting with McKenzie in the courtroom at a table. The girl was extremely shy and whispered her answers to several questions while holding a stuffed leopard toy.
But McKenzie, with Shimon Cohen by her side, couldn't adequately assure the court she understood what was meant by the concepts of truths and lies. She also mentioned that her brother Paul had died, leading Seibel to conclude that the case had been discussed with her. Seibel ruled McKenzie could not testify.
Rosalyn Cohen also testified about the evening of June 2, 2006, when she was summoned from her job as a Registered Nurse at a Morris rest home, to Stevens Community Medical Center, where Paul Cohen was initially taken following his injuries, with no pulse or respiration.
Rosalyn Cohen testified that at one point she touched one of her grandson's eyes - a medical technique to determine if there is brain function - and got no response. She stated that Paul Cohen's eyes were fixed and dilated, indicating either that he was dead or had a severe brain injury.
Several of Slaughter's acquaintances testified about an alleged argument between Marnie Cohen and Slaughter before Paul Cohen suffered his injuries. Medical personnel, including the flight nurse on Paul Cohen's trip to Children's Hospital, testified Thursday afternoon, and Morris Police Cpl. Jason Reed, the city's lead investigator on the case, spend several hours on the stand Thursday afternoon reviewing evidence gathered in the days following the incident.
The prosecution's case continues Friday and could be completed by Monday. The defense team indicated it could wrap up its case by the middle of next week.