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The state’s deputy medical examiner testified Tuesday at a Brewer man’s manslaughter trial that the cause of his infant son’s death was bleeding in his brain caused by trauma consistent with violent shaking and not of a sudden stroke as the defense claims.
The jury trial of Ronald Harding, 38, began Monday before Superior Court Justice Ann Murray at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor. A verdict is expected later this week.
Harding has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
The baby’s mother, Kayla Hartley, 32, and her older children were living in Brewer with Harding when 6-week-old Jaden died. Harding called 911 about 7:08 p.m. on Memorial Day 2021.
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 from doctors on Monday.
In a June 3, 2021, interview with Maine State Police detectives played for the jury Tuesday, Harding told police the baby suddenly went limp in his arms. He denied shaking or dropping him.
“This baby was everything for both of us,” Harding told Maine State Police detectives in the June 3 interview. “I wish I knew what happened.”
The prosecutor told jurors in her opening statement that the boy died of being violently shaken. The defense attorney said the baby died of sepsis.
Initially, the baby tested positive for the coronavirus but two subsequent tests were negative, according to testimony Monday. The medical examiner testified that Jaden did not have COVID-19 when the autopsy was performed on June 2, 2023.
Dr. Liam Funte, Maine’s deputy chief medical examiner, testified Tuesday that the boy weighed 10 pounds and was 22½ inches long when the autopsy was performed. Under cross-examination, Funte said that he saw no signs that could have led to a stroke in the baby.
Funte told jurors that there was significant bleeding in the boy’s brain and brainstem as well as a bruise on the back of his head. There also was some bruising near an ear and eye, the medical examiner testified. Funte concluded the baby died of an inflicted trauma.
The defense’s expert witness is expected to take the stand Wednesday to testify that the bleeding in the boy’s brain was a stroke caused by sepsis.
After Harding’s arrest in early June 2021, two other Maine parents were charged in the deaths of their children. Maine’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability is investigating their deaths and how the Maine Department of Human Services interacted with the children and their families.
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. OPEGA’s report to the Legislature on his murder is due in mid-March.
A report on Jaden’s death will be initiated if Harding is convicted.
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.