For the week of May 5, 1999  thru May 11, 1999  

Baldwin acquitted of "shaken-baby" charge


By GREG MOORE
Express Staff Writer

After less than four hours of deliberation, a jury declared Michelle Baldwin innocent of murder in the alleged shaking death of a toddler.

The two-and-a-half-week-long trial, which wrapped up last Wednesday in Fifth District Court in Rupert, was the second for Baldwin on the first-degree murder charge. The first, held in Hailey in November, resulted in a hung jury and therefore a mistrial. The second trial was held in Minidoka County to avoid a possibly tainted Blaine County jury pool.

Baldwin was accused of killing then-20-month-old Anthony Northrup on Jan. 1, 1997 by violently shaking him while caring for him at her apartment in Hailey. To prove its case, the prosecution needed to convince jurors that violent shaking was the only possible cause of injuries to Anthony’s brain and eyes and that Baldwin was the only person in a position to have inflicted that shaking.

The quick innocent verdict contrasted with a 9-5 vote for conviction by the first jury. In an interview, defense attorney Keith Roark attributed the difference primarily to two additional expert medical witnesses called by the defense. In the original trial, the defense called only one expert witness.

One of those new witnesses, Dr. Lawrence Thibault, a radiologist from Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, testified that Anthony’s death could have been the result of a stroke. He said the clot producing the stroke could have been caused by traumatic injury, but that the injury could have occurred a week or more previous to Anthony’s death. That could have preceded the time Baldwin began to care for him.

Thibault’s testimony was strengthened by an admission by Anthony’s mother, not offered during the original trial, that she had shaken him once during that week while disciplining him.

"I cannot say beyond a reasonable doubt that she is innocent," Roark said about Baldwin. "But there are other people who could have done it."

Roark pointed out that he knew no more about Baldwin’s actions than what he had presented at the trials.

Baldwin did not testify in either trial, though the prosecution showed jurors videotapes of her interrogation by police investigators. Roark said he advised Baldwin not to testify on the grounds that even small discrepancies between her videotaped testimony and court testimony were likely to be exploited by the prosecution.

"At a certain point, anybody who gives an interview four different times—you don’t always remember the details," he said.

Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Doug Werth said that although he was disappointed with the verdict, he felt the jury had acted conscientiously.

"I felt that the state put on a strong case," he said. "It was something that a jury had to decide."

At both of Baldwin’s trials, the cost of both prosecution and defense was born by Blaine County.

The first trial cost $104,888, not including prosecutors’ salaries. The county assessor’s office reports that it has so far received bills totaling $73,849 for the second trial. Still to be added to that are costs of jury salaries, some expert witness fees and lodging for prosecutors during the trial.

 

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