Deputy District Attorney Debbie Pearson (photo by Jerilee Bennett)
The closing arguments in the first-degree murder trial of former foster mom Jules Lynn Cuneo have begun.
Cuneo is accused in the October 2007 child abuse death of 2-year-old foster child Alizé Vick.
Deputy District Attorney Debbie Pearson is explaining the elements of the charge to the jury. The courtroom is packed with spectators, include Vick’s biological mom, Ashley Susan Lindenberger.
“Ms. Cuneo had a unique position in this case,” Pearson said. “She was a foster mother.”
Pearson goes over the various statements Cuneo gave first responders who came to her home after she reported a 2-year-old girl was unconscious.
Pearson is reviewing, witness by witness, the prosecution’s case.
She recalls how Lindenberger - upon seeing her daughter that night at the hospital – said - “that’s not my girl,” describing how skinny she had become and that her hair was falling out.
Pearson recalls a statement Cuneo gave to investigator Cliff Porter, who was the lead detective in the case.
“You see those mothers on TV and now I’m in the car,” he quoted Cuneo as saying.
Pearson recalls El Paso County Coroner Dr.Robert Bux’s testimony that Alizé died of trauma caused by blunt force.
The totality of the evidence convinced Bux the child’s death was a homicide.
“What’s there, is there,” he said of the evidence.
Pearson goes over the medical testimony in the case. Then she wraps up.
“This case is about Alizé Vick,” she said, showing a picture of the little girl. “She deserves the protection of our laws.”
“Our laws do not vary according to the kind of family you come from,” she added. “Give Alize the protection of our laws.”
“There is one person responsible,” Pearson said. “She is Jules Lynn Cuneo.”
Defense attorney Dennis Hartley (photo by Jerilee Bennett)
Defense Attorney Dennis Hartley is making his closing argument.
“The prosecution has many hypothesis,” he said. “That’s all they are, hypothesis.”
“The evidence that speaks the loudest is the lack of evidence,” he said. “The evidence that could prove the prosecution’s theory is lacking.”
He reminded jurors of the 911 call that Cuneo made to the El Paso County Sheriff’s dispatcher on Oct. 9, 2007.
She told the truth in that call, he said.
“She is too panicked to make up a story,” he said.
The prosecution’s expert medical witnesses testified that they believed the girl’s injuries were not consistent with a short fall.
But Hartley said all of those witnesses agreed with him on one point: “that short fall injuries do cause death.”
Hartley recalled the testimony of a defense witness, who described “older blood” on the brain scans that were done on the child at Memorial Hospital that night.
“Older blood, older injuries,” Hartley said.
Hartley brings up a key piece of evidence against his client, the 2-hour videotaped interview she did with Detective Porter. In that interview, Cuneo changed her story.
She initially told investigators that Alizé had fallen from her lap while they were playing “bouncy horsey” and hit the back of her head on a coffee table.
That fall did happen, Cuneo said. But when the girl would not answer questions, Cuneo admitted tossing Alizé across the living room about five feet.
“I would advise you that back at the station, Det. Porter is calling her basically a liar,” Hartley said. “Finally, he gets something from a woman who is overly helpful.”
On the tape, Cuneo later said she had said something she should not have said.
“Sure she said something she shouldn’t have said, Hartley said. “She said something that didn’t exist.”
Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Cusick talks with fellow prosecutor Debbie Pearson. (photo by Jerilee Bennett)
Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Cusick though hammered away at the interview in her rebuttal argument.
Cusick replayed the portion of the videotape where Cuneo admitted tossing Alizé.
“This case is not about an old injury,” Cusick said.
“This case is also not about short falls or two slight mishaps,” she added.
Cusick said prosecutors don’t know about an earlier incident in which Alizé tumbled out of Cuneo’s SUV face first in a Target parking lot.
But Cusick said they do know that Cuneo’s discription of an accidental fall while playing “horsey” was inaccurate.
Then she played the tape.
Jules Lynn Cuneo (photo by Jerilee Bennett)
“She wouldn’t talk to me. I was angry,” Cusick said, quoting Cuneo. “She still wouldn’t talk to me so I threw her.”
“It’s not about a lack of evidence,” Cusick said. “Think about the force it would take to cause that kind of injury.”
The statement Cuneo gave to Porter was voluntary, Cusick said.
“Nobody forced her into saying that. She talked of her own free will.”
Cusick noted that the defendant even drew pictures to explain what she did.
“She did not initially admit what happened to Alizé because she knew it was not right,” Cusick said.
Then she again showed a picture of Alizé to the juror.
“This is a case about an isolated, lonely girl who is at the mercy of this woman,” Cusick said, pointing to Cuneo.
The jury of 9 women and 3 men began deliberations around 11:30 a.m.
Stayed tuned to Gazette.com for the verdict.