US court reduces Indian-American woman's murder conviction to involuntary manslaughter
Washington: A US court has reduced the second-degree murder conviction of an Indian-American woman charged with violently shaking to death an infant in her care after it found no evidence that she intended to hurt the child, according to a media report.
A Middlesex Superior Court judge, Kenneth Fishman, said that the second-degree murder conviction a jury delivered in May against Pallavi Macharla, a 44-year-old mother of two, was not "consonant with justice".
He reduced the murder conviction to involuntary manslaughter.
The four-week trial featured a number of medical experts who presented strikingly different theories about what killed Ridhima Dhekane, whom Macharla was baby-sitting in March 2014 in the day-care center she ran in her Burlington home, Boston Globe reported.
The conflicting findings made it impossible to justify a second-degree murder conviction, Fishman wrote in the ruling.
"This court cannot permit a verdict of second-degree murder to stand in the presence of such highly contested and inconsistent evidence," Fishman wrote in the 17-page ruling.
At trial, prosecutors said Macharla, who was a medical doctor in her native India, became frustrated when the baby began fussing and shook her so violently her brain bled.
Macharla, who testified in her own defence, said the baby had vomited shortly after she fed her homemade applesauce and then stopped breathing.
Fishman denied a defence motion to overturn the conviction and acquit Macharla. Fishman agreed there was no evidence that Macharla intended to hurt the child, noting that she gave the baby mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when she stopped breathing.
"It appears that the defendant had no history of abusive behaviour toward children in the past but rather was a patient, considerate, and loving caretaker of children, he wrote.
"There is, however, a child who has tragically died, coupled with evidence of extraordinary internal injuries that some experts would attribute to abusive head trauma in the form of a shaking and/or a blow.
The ruling means Macharla, who was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years, will likely serve no more than five years. Involuntary manslaughter carries no minimum mandatory sentence and a maximum sentence of 20 years, but the state's sentencing guidelines call for no more than five years in prison, the report said.
A new sentencing date has been scheduled for September 27.
Prosecutors can appeal Fishman's decision to reduce the conviction.
Meghan Kelly, a spokeswoman for Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, declined to comment on the decision.
"We are still reviewing the decision," Kelly said.
Fishman's decision followed competing motions from prosecutors and the defence over the verdict. The defence said the verdict should be overturned in part because medical experts agreed the bleeding in the child's brain was due to a prolonged period without oxygen.
The defence also cited the testimony of biomechanical engineers, who disputed that a person has the strength to shake an infant with enough force to cause bleeding inside the brain and retinal hemorrhaging.