Closing Arguments Given in Shaken-Baby Murder Case
After three weeks of disturbing testimony in the trial of a man accused of fatally shaking his 2-month-old daughter in 2007, the defendant’s lawyer stood before the jury and began his summation with an oddly sentimental recollection about his own childhood.
The lawyer, Cedric Ashley, told jurors on Thursday that his favorite childhood book was “The Little Engine That Could,” and then proceeded to use that steam engine as a metaphor to defend Li Hangbin, who according to the prosecutor in the case, Leigh Bishop, murdered his daughter Annie.
Mr. Ashley told jurors that Ms. Bishop was driving the “Prosecution Express” with Mr. Li, 28, as the “sole passenger.”
Mr. Li, he said, “needs protection as they try to drive him to the City of Guilt — not over the mountain of reasonable doubt, but through the dark tunnel” where “the light of justice cannot shine.”
Ms. Bishop began her summation by flipping Mr. Ashley’s device, telling the jury, “We’re not here to read a bedtime story.”
“We’re here because Annie Li will never read a bedtime story. She’ll never read ‘The Little Engine That Could.’ We’re here because Hangbin Li killed Annie Li.”
And so the proceeding in State Supreme Court, in Queens, became a showdown between two lawyers specializing in so-called shaken-baby cases, dueling it out in a closely watched trial. Each skimmed from days of tedious medical testimony — including hospital records, autopsy reports and varying doctors’ opinions — to sway the jury in two separate directions.
Ms. Bishop used the testimony to try to prove that Mr. Li, a Chinese immigrant who was raising Annie with his companion, Li Ying, 27, was guilty of second-degree murder, among other charges.
On Oct. 22, 2007, Annie fell gravely ill and went into cardiac arrest. She was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she died five days later, after having sustained what Ms. Bishop called traumatic brain injury.
With his “Little Engine” motif, Mr. Ashley seized upon the storybook train’s mantra and told jurors that Ms. Bishop’s mantra throughout the trial “was not ‘I think I can,’ but ‘I wish we could.’ ”
Throughout his summation, Mr. Ashley kept repeating the “I wish” line, mimicking a steam engine as he tried to shoot down Ms. Bishop’s explanation that Annie died from “shaking and blunt force trauma.”
Mr. Ashley told jurors that for a just verdict, “you can’t take the express through the tunnel.” He added, “You got to take the local over the mountain of reasonable doubt, to get to the City of Guilt.”
He called the jury “12 train inspectors,” and said the only way to save Mr. Li from conviction was to scrutinize the evidence.
The problem, he maintained, was that the proper experts and evidence necessary to rightfully convict Mr. Li were “not on board” and that Ms. Bishop built her case on the testimony of “rock star” experts flown in like hired guns, and that their testimony was crafty and deceptive.
He urged the jurors to “hold your hand high and say, ‘Stop this train.’ ”
Even after dismissing Mr. Ashley’s train story, Ms. Bishop took the jury on a narrative ride of her own, starting from the time Annie was alone with Mr. Li on Oct. 22, through her death five days later, and afterward as the medical evidence overwhelmingly showed, she said, that Annie had symptoms consistent with traumatic brain injury.
She was “viciously and brutally extinguished at the hands of her own father,” Ms. Bishop said. She told jurors that Mr. Li first told doctors at the hospital that the baby suffered a bump, but then after a CT scan revealed serious injuries, he later revised his description as a “heavy bump.”
“Does a loving father really need 36 hours and a CT scan to prompt his memory?” Ms. Bishop said.
Children, she said, “don’t just wind up in a pediatric care unit, dying from a bump on the head.”
Ms. Bishop called Mr. Li a man who “chose his own well-being — he chose himself — over his daughter,” and she reminded jurors that Mr. Li held Annie as she died. “He stared down at his little girl as she leaves our world, and even that could not pierce the defendant’s desire to protect himself,” she said.
Mr. Li watched both summations intently, a court official at his elbow translating the proceedings into his ear. If convicted, Mr. Li would face a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.
Mr. Ashley maintains that Annie, whose health was already fragile because of a genetic condition, was bumped against a night table during a chaotic revival process after her heart attack. All of these factors contributed to her falling unconscious and eventually dying, Mr. Ashley said.
Ms. Bishop mocked this as “a perfect storm for a number of rare medical conditions” and “a preposterous chain of events.”
Three weeks ago, Ms. Bishop opened her case by asking the jury, “What happened to baby Annie Li?” Just before Justice Richard L. Buchter charged the jury on Thursday, Ms. Bishop said one final thing to the jurors.
“What happened to Annie Li?” she said. “Hangbin Li killed her. Find him guilty.”