In a crowded military courtroom on Alameda’s Coast Guard Island, attorneys made their opening statements Wednesday in the trial of a US Coast Guard member accused of neglecting his three-year-old daughter after she suffered injuries that led to her death.
Jimmy Barlow, 31, faces four counts of child endangerment in a military court-martial at the same time his wife Holli Barlow faces similar charges in Alameda County. The charges stem from the 2011 death of Eden Lynch, which the Alameda County coroner’s office ruled a homicide caused by blunt force trauma to the head. Eden had been in the couple’s care for about four months when she died.
In a 45 minute opening statement, the defense team argued that Barlow cooperated with medical staff and answered their questions about what happened to his daughter, and that Barlow was betrayed by social workers and medical professionals who reported suspected child abuse to police after Barlow’s daughter was rushed to the hospital in an unresponsive state. Barlow’s attorney, Colby Vokey, called Eden’s death a tragic accident resulting from a fall down a flight of concrete steps outside of Barlow’s apartment about a week before she collapsed. Vokey, a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the United States Marine Corps, argued that Barlow could not have done anything that would have prevented Eden’s death. He told the court that Barlow was just learning to be a father and was making great progress with his daughter before her tragic death.
But Coast Guard prosecutors say Barlow failed to protect or seek medical care for Eden after she suffered the serious injuries that ultimately led to her death. Lt. Commander Karl Mueller argued Barlow saw bruises on Eden’s neck and witnessed strange behavior in the days leading up to her death, such as choking herself with a necklace and eating her own feces, but failed to take her to the hospital or have her evaluated by medical professionals. Prosecutors said they plan to show text messages in court from Barlow to his then girlfriend, now wife, Holli who provided daytime care for Eden, including one text from Barlow saying that Eden needed her dad to “whoop that ass.”
Barlow’s attorneys never disputed Eden’s odd behavior, but attributed her actions to major changes and disruptions in her life. They placed the blame on her recent move to Alameda after her mother Erica Lynch lost custody of Eden. Defense attorneys said Barlow was concerned about Eden’s care by her mother, who had been abusing drugs.
Following opening arguments, prosecutors began calling key witnesses and presenting evidence, such as the 9-1-1 call made by Holli Barlow when she found Eden unresponsive in their Alameda apartment.
Lt. Commander Geralyn Van de Krol played the recording, in which Holli Barlow frantically tells a dispatcher that Eden is convulsing and barely breathing and that she has recently been “acting weird, banging her head on the wall and scratching herself.”
Following the 9-1-1 call, prosecutors called two first responders to the witness stand to testify about what they saw when first arriving on scene at Barlow’s apartment.
Alameda Fire Department Captain Sam Yussim testified that when he arrived on scene, he saw Eden lying on the ground in a bedroom.
“I noticed she had some bruising under her eyes. Raccoon eyes. It looked like two black eyes,” Yussim said. “There were some scratches on her neck and chest area.”
Yussim further described for the court that Eden appeared wet, as though water had been splashed on her to revive her.
He recounted that when Jimmy Barlow arrived, he did not talk to paramedics or ask them any questions about Eden; instead he went to the kitchen and spoke with Holli. Yussim testified that neither of them rode in the ambulance to Children’s Hospital Oakland with Eden.
“It didn’t seem like he wanted to have much to do with what we were doing,” Yussim said. “I remember carrying this little girl out on a backboard and walking past the kitchen where he and the young lady [Holli] were talking.”
Yussim said of the thousands of calls he’s responded to in his career, this one was “burned into his memory.”
Alameda Fire Department captain, David Buckley, said the injuries he saw on Eden did not seem to match the Barlows’ account that Eden’s injuries were the result of a fall down a flight of stairs more than a week before.
“It was my gut feeling that what we found as far as injuries did not add up,” Buckley said, explaining why they decided to call Alameda police.
Prosecutors also called Holli Barlow as a witness. She was taking care of Eden while Jimmy was at work on the day Eden collapsed. With her attorney Randolph Daar standing beside her, Barlow took the stand and exercised her 5th Amendment rights protecting her from self-incrimination and then left the courtroom.
The day’s final witness, Dr. Robert Crawford-Jacubiak, the Director of the Center for Child Protection at Children’s Hospital Oakland, was called by hospital staff to examine Eden when she arrived because of the suspicious nature of her injuries.
Crawford-Jacubiak told the court that children rarely show up at the hospital with injuries like Eden’s.
“The child had a collection of injuries that are unusual for a three-year-old,” he said. “The ear, the eye, under the eye, the neck, the jaw are all very unusual places for a child to have a collection of bruises. This is not the pattern of bruising that you typically see. When they have bruising on their face, sides of their head, it would immediately cause me to ask the question, ‘Why did this child have these bruises?’”
On cross examination, when asked by defense attorney Vokey if the injuries on Eden’s neck could have been caused
by the toddler choking herself with her own necklace, he said he didn’t believe that was a likely explanation for the bruising he witnessed.
“I certainly think choking with a necklace could cause injuries like that to the neck,” Crawford-Jakubiak said. “I’ve never heard of a three-year-old child being responsible for causing those injuries to herself.”
Crawford-Jakubiak said if Eden’s injuries had been caused by a fall down a flight of concrete steps, she would likely have cuts and bruises on her shins or elbows. When examining Eden at the hospital, Crawford-Jackubiak said he found no such injuries.
Among those present in the courtroom were the prosecutors in charge of Holli Barlow’s case in Alameda County, Holli Barlow’s defense team, various members of the Coast Guard, and a large group of Erica Lynch’s family members.
Eric and Rhonda Lynch, Eden’s maternal grandparents, traveled from their home in Maine to watch the trial. Grandmother Rhonda Lynch was not allowed in the courtroom because she’s scheduled to testify as a witness in the trial, but Eden’s grandfather Eric wiped away tears during the prosecution’s opening statements and when photos of Eden in the hospital were shown.
“I want to see justice served,” Eric Lynch said. “And I believe it will be served.”
Erica, Eden’s mother, was also in the audience for most of the day.
“I just miss her laughter,” she said. “I miss her calling me Mommy. I just miss her.”
Both Jimmy and Holli Barlow have declined to be interviewed by NBC Bay Area.
Jimmy Barlow elected to have a bench trial, which means a judge rather than a jury will decide the outcome of the case. The judge said he expects the trial to conclude by the end of next week.
NBC Bay Area will continue following the trial.