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Lawyer contends baby death case was 'mishandled'


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POSTED: Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The attorney for a 26-year-old Mililani woman charged with second-degree murder in the death of her 7-week-old nephew says police “;mishandled”; the case and that the infant had a pre-existing medical condition.

;[Preview]    Westbrook Pleads Not Guilty
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Natalee Westbrook, charged in the death of her 7-week-old nephew, pleaded not guilty today and blamed the baby's head injuries on a previous medical condition.

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After Natalee K. Westbrook's initial appearance in Honolulu District Court yesterday, defense attorney Eric Seitz said he has not seen any medical evidence that supports the murder charge.

Seitz said police were “;very heavy handed”; in the way they handled the case and “;hounded”; Westbrook's family. He described police actions as “;a travesty.”;

“;There is no tangible evidence that Natalee is responsible for the baby's death,”; Seitz said. The infant was born with a blood clot in his head.

The baby died from abusive head trauma, the Medical Examiner's Office said, adding that the cause of death was homicide. An examining doctor said the infant had “;a large bruise”; on the left side of his head. The boy also might have suffered internal bleeding in his skull and semi-detached retinas.

“;We don't know what happened,”; Seitz said.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 15. However, Seitz said he believes Westbrook will be indicted by a grand jury later this week. Westbrook is free after posting $150,000 bail.

Westbrook was arrested June 9 after she told police that she found her nephew, Maika Lawelawe-Westbrook, unresponsive at 1:44 p.m. May 9 on the floor at her home. He was taken by ambulance to Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center, where he died the next morning.

Westbrook told police she and her nephew fell asleep on a sofa after her sister, Jessica Westbrook, dropped off the boy at 10:30 a.m.

According to a police affidavit, the only other person in the house was William Lawelawe. Natalee Westbrook and Lawelawe are parents of a 3-month-old girl, Tehani Lawelawe.

In court papers, Westbrook said she had to use the bathroom and left the infant sleeping on his left side.

When she returned, she said, her nephew was on the floor, face down and not breathing. She said her boyfriend and a neighbor tried to revive the infant.

Seitz said there have been no adverse reports from state Child Protective Service on Westbrook and her family, which he described as “;very tight.”; Several of them were at yesterday's hearing.

“;Of all the children in the family, she is the most caring, the most supportive, the most responsible,”; he said.

Child Protective Services “;has not concluded that she (Westbrook) was an abusive caretaker,”; Seitz said.

District Judge David Woo allowed Westbrook and Seitz to use a rear entrance to the courthouse to avoid reporters and cameramen in the hallway outside the seventh-floor courtroom.