Defense attorneys for 31-year-old Jimmy Barlow, a petty officer with the U.S. Coast Guard, opened their case Monday by asking the judge to dismiss the four counts of child endangerment against Barlow on the grounds there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge him in connection to the homicide death of his 3-year-old daughter Eden.
But the judge ruled against the motion and allowed the case to continue.
Coast Guard prosecutors rested their case Saturday, calling Rhonda Lynch, Eden’s maternal grandmother, as their final witness.
“We all played a large role in raising her,” Lynch said, “She was a happy, joyful, bossy, sassy, fun child. She made us laugh every day.”
Lynch said she co-raised Eden for the first two-and-a-half years of her life with her husband Eric and her daughter Erica at their Southern California home.
“Eden’s behavior was extremely normal,” Lynch said. “My husband used to say she was smarter than both our kids put together.”
Lynch also told the court that Eden had been potty trained between January and February of 2011 and that during a camping trip in July of that year, Eden never wore a diaper.
The day before Eden’s collapse, evidence shows she urinated on herself on four separate occasions. She also defecated on herself and smeared the feces on her face. Coast Guard prosecutors argued the unusual behavior should have been cause for concern for Jimmy and Holli Barlow, and they should have sought medical attention.
However, Barlow says that Eden was having routine issues with potty training and sometimes had to be put in a diaper, so the incidents were not particularly alarming to him.
Testimony the day before from Matthew Murillo, Holli’s ex-boyfriend and the father of their daughter, shed light on Holli as a mother. Murillo, an attorney, said he and Holli lived together from 2007 to 2009, but Holli went back to live with her mother when the couple split.
Murillo testified he met Jimmy Barlow sometime around 2010 or 2011 and that he thought he was nice, quiet and reserved. He said Barlow’s daughter Eden, and his daughter got along well and liked each other. He called Eden “a good kid, really sweet” and recalled she didn’t have any behavioral issues.
Murillo said Tuesday, Aug. 30, he went to pick up his daughter from BART and that’s when he noticed Eden had feces on her face. He said he told Holli about it and later followed up with her to check on Eden.
Murillo testified Holli texted him earlier that month to say she enjoyed life with their daughter as an only child. But Murillo said the text message did not concern him because he figured she was just adjusting to becoming a caregiver for Jimmy’s daughter Eden.
When cross-examined by Barlow’s defense team, Murillo said he never saw Holli lose her temper with either of the kids and that she was an overprotective mom.
Holli’s mom, Dianna de Alba, also testified Friday that Holli was a great mom. She said they had a birthday party for Eden at her house in Vallejo and that Eden was well cared for.
But when questioned by the prosecution, de Alba said, “I don’t know” and “I don’t remember” in response to several questions about whether the couple ever sought professional health care for Eden or if they explored what was “scaring” the toddler after she began screaming when people left, refused to eat anything except soft food and expressed fear.
De Alba also did not recall whether she saw any bruises on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2011, when Eden went with her and Holli to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Eden collapsed three days later on Aug. 31 while in Holli’s care, never regaining consciousness. Her death was ruled a homicide, caused by blunt force trauma to the head.
Following Dianna de Alba’s testimony, the court heard from two key witnesses for the prosecution: Social worker Alma Hernandez and Alameda police Detective Sean Lynch (who is not related to Eden Lynch.)
Hernandez testified about the day Eden was rushed to Children’s Hospital Oakland, where Jimmy Barlow repeated his account of how Eden had fallen down the stairs. She testified, “In the subsequent days they saw abnormal behavior: banging her head on the wall, that she had choked herself with a necklace and rubbed feces on herself. They did not seek care after those events because she had exhibited that kind of behavior when she had first moved in, and that had subsided,” and said, “As a social worker, it was concerning to me that prior medical attention had not been sought.”
Detective Lynch, who testified he has handled at least 100 homicides in his career before retiring in 2012, said Jimmy and Holli Barlow voluntarily agreed to an interview with Lynch in November 2011.
From the witness stand, Lynch said he wanted to notify Barlow that the coroner had ruled Eden’s death a homicide.
Lynch said Barlow’s response was extremely impassive and that he showed no emotion. Lynch testified, “Every single time I tell a parent their child has been murdered, they ask me who did it. Barlow did not.”
The prosecution played an audio recording of the interview in the court-martial, as Lynch pressed Barlow for details about Eden’s death. In the recording, Lynch can be heard telling Barlow that it was either Jimmy or Holli that killed Eden, and he didn’t believe it was Jimmy.
Lynch said he asked Jimmy to explain what happened. “Help us out, Jimmy. We don’t want to arrest two people.”
But Barlow did not offer any further details beyond what he had previously told investigators: That he believed Eden’s death was the result of injuries related to slow brain bleed triggered by a fall down the stairs outside his apartment more than a week before she collapsed.
On Monday, defense attorney Colby Vokey wasted no time before trying to cast doubt on the Alameda County Coroner’s finding that Eden’s death was a homicide and the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.
His first witness was Dr. Gregory Shoukimas, a board certified neuroradiologist and national expert who has testified in numerous cases on behalf of defendants accused of child abuse. He said he reviewed roughly 10,000 pages of documentation related to the case, including medical records, CT scans, and interviews of Barlow and his girlfriend, now wife, Holli, who is also facing a felony child abuse charge in Alameda County.
Dr. Shoukimas testified Eden’s CT scan showed two things: a brain bleed, or subdural hematoma, and brain swelling.
But the doctor said it was unclear when the subdural hematoma occurred or how long Eden’s brain had been bleeding. He testified that based on his review of the records, he believes “respiratory arrest can cause this type of brain trauma,” establishing the defense’s theory that Eden suffered some type of seizure due to the brain bleeding and that brain bleed could have been the result of Eden’s reported fall down several concrete steps about a week prior to her collapse.
“My understanding is Holli had gone to the car, and Eden had followed her. She tripped and fell onto her head. She fell approximately 4 feet. A fall from 8 feet onto a hard surface is significant enough to cause a subdural injury,” Dr. Shoukimas said.
“A subdural hematoma of this size can be completely asymptomatic,” the doctor said, indicating Eden may not have exhibited any signs that anything was wrong before she eventually collapsed and lost consciousness on Aug. 31. Eden never recovered and was declared dead Sept. 3, 2011.
The doctor testified that Eden could have suffered seizures that led to her tongue going back into her throat and restricting her ability to breathe. “There’s a high correlation between the presence of edema and seizure activity,” Dr Shoukimas said.
He disagreed with Eden’s treating physician at Children’s Hospital Oakland, Dr. James Crawford-Jacubiak, and the coroner’s ruling, who both said there was blunt force trauma to Eden’s head.
When asked by defense attorney Vokey, to confirm, “No blunt force trauma, this was respiratory arrest that brought on edema?” Dr. Shoukimas replied, “Yes.”
Prosecutors cross examined Dr. Shoukimas and asked if he could definitively say when the bleeding of the brain occurred, to which he responded he could not. They pointed out he has given presentations for the National Child Abuse Defense and Resource Center, which is an organization that fights on behalf of falsely accused child abusers.
Dr. Shoukimas affirmed he believes Jimmy Barlow has been falsely accused and said if his own grandchild fell down stairs he would be afraid to take that child to the hospital, for fear of being accused of abuse.
He said he has declined to testify in the majority of cases brought to him and added, “The only cases I get involved with are ones where there’s a reasonable way to exclude abuse.”
The defense also called Dr. Kris Sperry to the stand as a board certified expert in forensic, clinical and anatomical pathology. He told military judge Matthew Fay this was the 743rd time he has testified live in a court trial.
Dr. Sperry echoed the opinion of Dr. Shoukimas, that he saw “extremely severe swelling of the entire brain edema … but no evidence of other impact,” and that he also believed Eden had a seizure that caused her tongue to block her airway and deprive her brain of oxygen, which led it to swell.
He viewed photos of bruises and scratches on Eden’s body and said the scratches “could be caused by her fingernails” and that his impression of her injuries was that they were “very superficial” and he suspected many of them were caused by first responders.
“Paramedics were aggressively trying to save her life. Those marks are nothing to worry about,” he said.
Dr. Sperry testified that he saw no evidence in Eden’s medical records that she had been abused.
Under cross examination, prosecutors pointed out inconsistencies in Dr. Sperry’s testimony and asked if he had considered all of the information provided in Holli Barlow’s statements about Eden’s behavior prior to her collapse.
Prosecutor: "If Eden had been zombie-like for two hours that would be a concern?"
Dr. Sperry: "Yes."
Prosecutor: "You did or did not watch the interview of Holli?"
Dr. Sperry: "I don’t remember."
The prosecutor read a quote from Holli’s statement to investigators that on the morning of her collapse, Eden “was just sitting there depressed like staring at the wall for like two hours,” asking if it would be concerning to Dr. Sperry if he knew that. “I, as a professional, would want to know a lot more,” Sperry answered.
The defense is expected to call six to eight more witnesses to the stand Tuesday.