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A Penobscot County jury will determine whether a Brewer father caused the death of his 6-week-old son, or if the child died on June 1, 2021, from a sudden stroke.
The manslaughter trial of Ronald Harding, 38, began Monday before Superior Court Justice Ann Murray at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor. A verdict is expected Thursday or Friday.
Harding has pleaded not guilty.
Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said the baby, Jaden Harding, died of brain damage after being violently shaken. Harding has denied harming the child. He pleaded not guilty to manslaughter in 2021.
“Jaden was a happy, healthy baby who was cared for by his stay-at-home mom,” Robbin told the jury of nine women and six men, including three alternates. “His mother handed the baby to his father to help the three older children take showers for school the next day.”
Defense Attorney William Ashe of Ellsworth said that two tragedies brought the jury to the courthouse. The first was the death of Jaden Harding, and the second was that Harding was changed with a crime he did not commit.
“The clinicians missed the actual cause of death,” Ashe told the jury. “Jaden had classic signs of sepsis brought on by infection that caused a stroke.”
Harding told police the baby suddenly went limp in his arms.
The baby’s mother, Kayla Hartley, 32, of Brewer testified that the family spent Memorial Day at Harding’s mother’s home in Newport. She said the baby behaved normally all day.
She said that she was helping her older children, who are not Harding children, shower when Harding suddenly brought the baby into the bathroom.
“His lips were blue and he was not breathing,” she told the jury. “He was cold to the touch. I told Ron to call 911.”
Hartley performed CPR on the baby as directed by the dispatcher at the Penobscot Regional Communication Center until paramedics arrived and took the child to Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. Jaden never regained consciousness or breathed on his own again, according to testimony.
Under cross-examination, Hartley said that Harding expressed some frustration in dealing with the infant, but she had no concerns about abuse.
Physicians who examined the child on Memorial Day and the following day testified that the child was brain dead and unresponsive when he was brought into the emergency room. The parents were told that Jaden was brain dead.
Mark Moran, a hospital social worker, spent time with Hartley and Harding as they held Jaden for the last time when he was taken off life support. He described Hartley as sobbing uncontrollably awhile Harding was stoic, but quietly weeping.
Harding showed little emotion on the first day of his trial.
Initially Harding was released on $3,000 cash bail, but it was revoked less than six weeks later after he had contact with the boy’s mother, which was forbidden under his bail conditions.
Hartley testified Monday that she told police Harding had texted her.
Harding has been held without bail since July 20, 2021, at Penobscot County Jail in Bangor.
The medical examiner found that the baby died of bleeding in his brain from inflicted injuries consistent with violent shaking, according to court documents. Dr. Liam Funte, the state’s deputy medical examiner, is scheduled to testify on Tuesday.
Harding was living with the baby’s mother on Getchell Road in Brewer when Jaden died.
The boy’s mother allegedly told detectives that she held Jaden for a few minutes before handing him to Harding once inside. The baby’s eyes were open and he was smiling and cooing at her before she went to give baths to her other children, she told investigators.
After Harding’s arrest in early June 2021, two other Maine parents were charged in the deaths of their children.
Old Town mother Hillary Goding, 30, pleaded guilty last year to manslaughter in the death of her 3-year-old daughter, Hailey. She is serving a 26-year sentence with all but 19 years suspended, followed by six years of probation.
In October, a Waldo County jury found Jessica Trefethen, 36, guilty of murder in the death of her 3-year-old son Maddox Williams in Stockton Springs. She was sentenced to 47 years in prison.
If convicted of manslaughter, Harding faces up to 30 years in prison and fines of up to $50,000. He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 if convicted of violating bail.