A New Orleans man charged with second-degree murder in his daughter's death testified Monday that he did shake the 13-week-old infant Sept. 1 because she was continually crying but that he did not intend to harm her.
If convicted, Thomas Nellum, 26, could face life in prison.
Talia Nellum, Nellum's only child, died Sept. 2, a day after she had been taken to a hospital with injuries and placed on a respirator. "I loved my little girl," Nellum told Criminal Court Judge Sharon Hunter, who is expected to rule in the case Feb. 8.
Dr. Paul Magarry, a forensic pathologist with the Orleans Parish coroner's office, testified that Taia died from bleeding in her head, the result of a violent shaking.
He said her injuries were evidence of "shaken baby syndrome" and that he has dealt with three such deaths in the past six months. Magarry said the baby suffered other injuries, including nine broken ribs and a broken leg.
Nellum, who cried in the courtroom, said he had not abused Talia at any other time or in any other way.
Nellum's attorney, Jeffery Smith, said that after Nellum had shaken Talia and she stopped breathing, he called 911 to get help and started administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which Smith suggested might have caused the fractures.
Smith asked Hunter to consider finding Nellum guilty of manslaughter, which could mean a maximum sentence of 40 years in jail, instead of second-degree murder.
Smith said his client already is being punished because he mourns his daughter, and that he had never committed any other crime.
But Duane Evans, an assistant district attorney in Orleans Parish, said the existing charge is appropriate: "I contend that crying does not give you the right to kill. Irritability doesn't give you the right to kill."
Even though Nellum called 911 and tried to save his daughter, Evans said, "Talia was already past the point of no return." The girl was taken by ambulance to Children's Hospital, where she was taken off life support systems and pronounced dead the day after the incident, he said.
Treva Bowie, Talia's mother an Nellum's former fiancee, wept in court. Bowie said Talia suffered from severe colic and often cried because of it.
Bowie said she had never seen Nellum hurt their baby when they lived together in an apartment in the 2100 block of Valmont Str where she still lives. Also, Nellum acted as a stepfather to her two older daughters, who were not his, she said.
If she had seen any signs of abuse, Bowie said she would not have stayed with Nellum. She said she and Nellum had both worked two jobs when they were together and that she was out working when the incident occurred that led to Talia's death.
By Joan Treadway, Staff writer
Father admits shaking infant, denies intent to harm her
N.O. man testifies in murder trial
A 25-year-old New Orleans man was found guilty of manslaughter, rather than murder Tuesday and given 15 years in Jail for the shaking death of his infant daughter The judge said she believed the man was reckless in the girl's death but also considered the mother's pleas for leniency.
A week after presiding over his trial, Criminal District Judge Sharon Hunter convicted Thomas Nellum of manslaughter in the Sept. 1920, death of 8-month-old Talia Nellum, his only child. Prosecutors had charged Nellum with second-degree murder, which would have eamed a mandatory life sentence, The sentence for manslaughter ranges from 0 to 40 years.
Hunter said that she had considered pleas from Talia's mother during the trial in her sentencing.
"The court would have given him more but the mother leaded for leniency," she said.
The judge went on to say that Nellum, who cried during his trial, had been needlessly reckless and enraged with his tiny daughter that night in the couple's Valmont Street apartment.
"I thought it was reckless," Hunter said. "A baby can cry all night but she doesn't deserve to be shaken."
A doctor had testified that Talia's injuries showed "shaken baby syndrome." She had a fractured skull, nine broken ribs and a broken leg when she died.
Nellum was home alone with the child when the incident occurred. He dialed 911 in a frantic attempt to save her and performed CPR but when medics arrived, "Talia was already past the point of no return," said Duane Evans, who prosecuted the case.
She was taken to Children's Hospital where she was taken off life support and pronounced dead a day after the incident. Nellum, who originally told police he was trying to burp his daughter, was initially booked with cruelty to a juvenile before she died.
Treva Bowie, the child's mother and Nellum's ex-fiancee, had testified that the tiny girl suffered from severe colic, which often left her howling from the discomfort. She told Hunter that she had never seen Nellum hurt the child. She said he had acted as stepfather to her two older daughters.
Nellum's, attorney, Jeff Smith, told the judge in closing arguments that his client, who had no criminal record, had suffered enough and would live for the rest of his life with guilt about his daughter's death. After the ruling, Nellum was led away in handcuffs by sheriff's deputies.
The Times-Picayune, Wednesday February 9, 2000
By Rhonda Bell, Staff writer
Dad gets 15 years in killing of infant
Child's mother asked judge to be lenient