Miranda Hopkins found guilty of manslaughter in baby’s death

By Colin Ellis, centralmaine.com | Nov 07, 2017
Miranda Hopkins, left, of Troy and her defense attorneys, Christopher MacLean and Laura Shaw, inside Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast for the start of her manslaughter trial in the death of her son last week. Centralmaine.com staff photo by David Leaming

Miranda Hopkins has been found guilty of manslaughter by a jury in connection with the death of her 7-week-old son Jaxson last January.

A week after the trial began, the three alternates on the 15-member jury were excused from their duties, and the remaining 12 members began their deliberations just after 11 a.m. Tuesday at Waldo County Superior Court. The jury returned with a verdict about nine hours later, just before 8 p.m.

Sentencing for Hopkins will happen later and her bail was set at $50,000 cash.

During closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Leanne Zainea said Hopkins was a tired and stressed mother of three with two older sons who are severely autistic. Though pictures around the house depicted a loving household, Zainea said the real story was different: that Jaxson could not have been killed by either or both of the boys as the defense was arguing.

“No one knows what goes on behind closed doors until those doors are unlocked for the world to see,” she said.

Those opened doors, she argued, showed a “battered and bruised baby” with broken ribs who was cold and stiff to the touch. She said the older sons were oblivious to police presence, with one boy asleep in his room on the other side of the trailer home and another asleep on the couch.

“One thing is clear. After all the evidence has been presented in this courtroom, Jaxson is still dead,” she said. “The issue is how Jaxson’s injuries were inflicted and who caused the injuries that lead to his death.”

Zainea said Jaxson’s injuries were consistent with being violently shaken and being hit off of a hard surface, at one point showing a photo of Jaxson’s injuries to the jury. She described Jaxson’s injuries as rapid and violent.

“When you put all those actions together, death will occur,” she said.

In order to find Hopkins not guilty of manslaughter, Zainea said the jury would have to overlook the fact that Hopkins had lied to police about various parts of the night, including where she slept and where she put Jaxson.

“She said she was afraid her family would be separated, but she had no problem pointing the finger at two nonverbal, severely autistic boys,” Zainea said. “Your common sense and reason tells she misled the officers for a very different reason, because she was afraid for herself.”

Hopkins had between five and seven shots of whiskey earlier in the day, smoked marijuana and took a Benadryl for congestion.

Hopkins’ defense maintains that either or both of the other brothers must have killed Jaxson. The two boys, who are nonverbal though one can communicate slightly using a tablet device, lack certain social skills and can be violent, according to Hopkins’ attorney Christopher MacLean.

Hopkins sat quietly with her head down during most of the closing arguments, occasionally being consoled by her other attorney, Laura Shaw.

MacLean said the two autistic children rely heavily on routine, which was broken on the day of Jan. 11 when Hopkins drank and smoked. She had initially fallen asleep in her own bed, but later changed her story and said she had passed out in her sons’ room, leaving Jaxson in the living room in a place the other boys could have gotten to him.

She usually had Jaxson sleep in her bed and had a tall gate in her doorway to stop the other sons from coming in at night. Most of the house had protections against the boys, such as a lock on the refrigerator and pantry.

MacLean said the truth about what happened to Jaxson was obvious, so obvious in fact others had tried to warn Hopkins ahead of time. Having Jaxson in a home with two severely autistic brothers was not a safe environment, he said, but Hopkins had set out to prove those other voices wrong. But in the end, she couldn’t. And because of that, a baby was dead.

MacLean said the state wanted to paint Hopkins as someone who was stressed out and at the end of her rope, which lead to her snapping and killing Jaxson. But MacLean said that was not at all who Hopkins is, and evidence proves that Hopkins loved her sons and had no intentions of harming anyone. He said evidence around the house, portioned out formula for the baby and a recently purchased snow suit, show Hopkins was not at the end of her rope.

“Everything suggests Miranda was planning for the future,” he said.

It was painfully obvious that one of the two boys killed Jaxson that night, while Hopkins was asleep at the foot of their bed, he said. When one of the boys would cry, it would often bring out a violent response from the other, he said, and that Jaxson, who was on the living room couch at the time, could well have been crying out that night while Hopkins was asleep.

“There is zero evidence that Miranda was about to hurt Jaxson,” he said.

MacLean said one or both of the boys took Jaxson out of his baby chair, and then likely kicked or stomped him and put him back.

Hopkins woke in the night with gallbladder pain and went to get an icepack for remedy. It was around that time she said she found Jaxson, cold to the touch.

In her rebuttal, Zainea said there were “two Mirandas.” The first is the person who is an administrator for a Facebook page about raising disabled children, who takes her children to doctor appointments and others see as a happy mother.

But the other Miranda is a person who made a mistake.

“Good mothers lose their patience, good mothers make mistakes, and on Jan. 12, this defendant made a bad choice,” Zainea said.

While MacLean said there was no sign of intent in the killing, Zainea said they weren’t alleging she intended to commit manslaughter, but that she was reckless or criminally negligent.

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