Thursday, April 15, 1999


Sitter saw girl before
and after she died

By Susan Kreifels


The last time Lani Gilbreath saw 20-month-old Cedra Edwards, the little girl in pink was stretching her arms for the woman who had baby-sat her many times. Cedra didn't want to get on the bus with her young mother, Gilbreath said.

But Gilbreath was on her way to buy a play telephone for the toddler for Christmas, and she told Cedra to go with her mom.

The next time she saw the little girl was four days later, Gilbreath testified yesterday, when she touched Cedra's cold, dead body in a hospital emergency room.

"She had bruises on her face so bad," said Gilbreath, resident manager of Five Regents Condominium, where Edwards lived. "I pulled back the blanket. Her stomach was swollen. She was yellow, with bruises all up and down her legs."

The second-degree murder trial started yesterday for Jennifer Edwards, accused of brutally beating her daughter Cedra in the four days leading to the child's death on Dec. 17, 1997. Edwards' blows to the child's body and stomping to her stomach, the prosecution said, ruptured her bowel and caused her death - one that could have been prevented with medical care.

"It was a slow, agonizing, painful death," Deputy Prosecutor Lucianne Khalaf told jurors, holding Cedra's photo during her entire opening statement.

Gilbreath said that after she saw Cedra dead, she asked the defendant at the hospital what happened.

"Jennifer told me she hit her," Gilbreath testified.

The high-profile case has stirred controversy about the state's role in the tragedy. Edwards' foster parents as well as her mother have accused state social workers of failing to prevent Cedra's death by ignoring warning signs that the child was in danger.

Khalaf described many instances of repeated child abuse by Edwards. The day Cedra died, Khalaf said, Edwards had pressed the child's bloated stomach against the kitchen counter, and Cedra went limp. Edwards, then 18, tried to revive her by putting her head under hot water, which made her "skin peel from the side of her head."

Much of Khalaf's descriptions of those last days was based on statements by Edwards' boyfriend, Mika Mika Jr., then 24. Khalaf said Mika wanted to take Cedra to the hospital earlier but Edwards refused.

Deputy public defender Ed Harada warned jurors to carefully consider information from Mika, who was arrested in the case but not charged. "He could still be charged," Harada said. "He has a tremendous amount to gain."

Mika, who lived with Edwards, could also lose the couple's son, born less than two weeks before Cedra's death, Harada said.

Harada described Edwards as a teen-ager who wasn't ready for the responsibilities of motherhood and who had suffered a sad childhood. Both Edwards and Cedra had been in and out of foster care.

But Edwards was still a loving mother, Harada said. Problems started after she moved in with Mika, who he described as a "Jekyll and Hyde" and who physically and mentally abused Edwards. Harada said the boyfriend resented Cedra and didn't want to support the child because he wasn't her father.

"She didn't want Cedra to die," Harada said about Edwards, who he described as under great stress and not guilty of murder. "She only did this because she lost temporary control of her ability to hold back."

Circuit Judge John S.W. Lim is presiding over the trial.

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