Friday, June 25, 2004

Father convicted
in son’s death

The defense said the death was
accidental, but the jury disagreed

A state Circuit Court jury found the father of an 8-week-old boy guilty of killing his son in October.

Derrick Smith was convicted of second-degree murder yesterday in the death of son Kelbey Bridenstine on Oct. 9.

Smith faces life in prison with the possibility of parole when sentenced Aug. 23. He will receive a mandatory minimum of 15 years because of the victim's age.

Deputy public defender Ronette Kawakami said he expects there will be an appeal.

The defense characterized the baby's death as an accident that horrified and shocked Smith, who was caring for the infant while the child's mother, Ericka Bridenstine, was helping a friend whose mother was in the hospital.

Smith claimed he and the baby were asleep on the couch at Bridenstine's Salt Lake apartment when he was awakened by the baby's cries about 1:30 a.m. He said he was carrying Kelbey to the crib when the infant wriggled and he accidentally dropped the child face first onto the tile floor. He said he called 911 and frantically tried to perform CPR after noticing the baby had stopped breathing, Kawakami said.

But deputy prosecutor Rom Trader maintained it was clear that the baby's multiple injuries were not an accident.

Honolulu chief medical examiner Kanthi Von Guenthner testified the injuries Kelbey Bridenstine sustained and the nature of the injuries had to have been inflicted and were inconsistent with a single fall.

The baby suffered two skull fractures -- in the area of the eyes and the top of his head -- and bruises to the top, back and both sides of his head, Trader said.

The medical examiner also pointed out bruises on the child's back and under his arms, consistent with the infant being picked up and pressure being applied.

"That was used as the handle on the baby, so to speak, when the injuries were inflicted," Trader said. "He had deep, catastrophic brain injury, which is what ultimately killed the boy."

Trader said one of the most telling pieces of evidence was when he asked Smith to explain the injuries to the top of the baby's head had he indeed fallen face first, and Smith was unable to give a satisfactory response.

"(Kelbey) lived 54 days. He deserved a lot better and he wasn't given the chance," Trader said.

Ericka Bridenstine gasped when the verdict was announced, and she later wiped away tears as family members hugged her. She declined to speak with reporters.

Kawakami said they have valid issues they intend to raise in their appeal, including the court allowing the jury to hear statements Smith allegedly made seven weeks before the baby died.

Smith and Bridenstine had a heated argument a week after the baby was born during which she claimed he threatened to "drop the baby off the balcony."

Smith claims he said "drop the baby off in Brooklyn," N.Y., where he is originally from and where his mother lives.


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