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Jurors deliberated for a little more than an hour before finding a Brewer father guilty of causing his 6-week-old son’s death by violently shaking the child on Memorial Day 2021.
The trial of Ronald Harding, 38, began Monday before Superior Court Justice Ann Murray at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.
Harding had pleaded not guilty to manslaughter but the jury of eight women and four men found him guilty after four days of testimony that included opposing medical opinions from forensic pathologists and Maine’s deputy medical examiner.
Harding showed no emotion when the verdict was read. He remained stoic throughout the trial.
Jurors heard differing opinions from medical experts on Wednesday and Thursday about what caused the baby’s death. The prosecution said the bleeding in the baby’s brain that caused his death was inflicted by his father.
The defense expert said that the baby died of complications from COVID-19 that caused the bleeding in his brain, and not from being violently shaken.
Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said in her closing argument Thursday that Jaden Harding was brain dead when he was brought to Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center on the evening of Memorial Day 2021.
“[Harding] was handed a healthy baby who started to fuss,” she told jurors in her closing statement. “He just wanted to watch ‘X-Men.’ He gave him a shake and the baby hit the back of his head.”
Robbin said that the last adult who was with the child when he became unresponsive was Harding. She told jurors that the baby’s father was responsible for his death.
She told the jury that there were no signs of disease found in the child and, although the baby tested positive once for COVID-19 at the hospital, two subsequent tests were negative as was a test at the boy’s autopsy.
Defense attorney William Ashe of Ellsworth said the boy’s mother told hospital staff that the baby had had a runny nose and some trouble breathing recently.
“Those are clear symptoms of COVID,” he told jurors. “A baby can’t say whether he’s lost his sense of smell or taste.”
Ashe also pointed to the testimony of Dr. Elizabeth Bundock, a neuropathologist who testified for the state that the bleeding was two to three days old. He told jurors that meant the bleeding in Jaden’s brain started before Memorial Day.
The baby’s mother, Kayla Hartley, 32, of Brewer testified Monday that she, Harding and her older children were living in Brewer when 6-week-old Jaden died. Harding called 911 around 7:08 p.m. on Memorial Day 2021.
Hartley said that she performed CPR on the baby as directed by the dispatcher at the Penobscot Regional Communication Center until paramedics arrived and took the child to the hospital. Jaden never regained consciousness or breathed on his own again, according to testimony from doctors.
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.
Harding is being held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail.
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-April.
A report on Jaden’s death will be initiated now that Harding’s trial has concluded.
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.