Wednesday, May 5, 1999

Child-death trial
shifts to jury

By Lori Tighe


The Jennifer Edwards murder trial closes today with the same judge as in the child abuse case of Kimberly Pada that ended in controversy.

But the jury in Edwards' trial won't hear the same instructions the judge gave in the Pada case that resulted in reducing Pada's attempted murder conviction to attempted manslaughter. It was a technicality that stunned the jury and public.

Circuit Judge John Lim decided with Deputy Prosecutor Lucianne Khalaf and deputy public defender Ed Harada yesterday to use standard jury instructions in the Edwards case, which won't include the question asked of the Pada jury.

Lim asked the Pada jury if the prosecution proved Pada wasn't under extreme emotional stress when she abused her son, Reubyne Buentipo Jr., who now exists in a vegetative state. When the jury answered no, it automatically reduced the attempted murder conviction to the lesser charge of attempted manslaughter.

The public became outraged, and several jury members said they didn't realize their answer to Lim's question would reduce Pada's conviction.

Edwards is accused of murdering her 20-month-old daughter, Cedra, Dec. 17, 1997, by kicking and stomping on her stomach.

She said her boyfriend, Mika Mika Jr., was responsible and told her to take the blame and use her past abuse as a defense. But Mika testified she wanted him to take the blame for Cedra's death because he would be safer in prison than she.

Early in the trial, Edwards' lawyer argued that Edwards did abuse her daughter, but under extreme emotional stress from abuse by her boyfriend and father.

"The jury instructions may be a moot point depending on which defense Harada goes with," said Jim Fulton, spokesman for the city prosecutor.

If Harada goes with Edwards' claim her boyfriend did it and made her take the blame, her emotional state of mind won't be an issue.

If he goes with the defense that Edwards' abuse of her daughter, which caused her death, stemmed from emotional trauma Edwards received herself from previous abuse, it will be an issue.

Either way, the judge won't be asking the jury the same "emotional stress" question as in the Pada case.

The Legislature passed a bill to amend the murder statute to include the "affirmative defense."

It puts the burden of proof on the defense to show a defendant murdered out of extreme emotional stress, rather than on the state to show the defendant didn't kill under those conditions.

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