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Verdict mixed in child-scalding case

August 23, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - A woman charged with scalding her 3-year-old daughter in a hot bath last year was found not guilty of aggravated assault Friday in Franklin County Court, but was convicted on two lesser charges.

Lallitra L. Coppedge, 34, of Greencastle, Pa., was on trial for the April 23, 2007, incident in which Destiny Coppedge sustained serious second-degree burns to more than 30 percent of her body. While found not guilty of the first-degree felony assault charge, the convictions for simple assault and endangering the welfare of a child each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

"I consider it a victory, yes," Assistant Public Defender Paul Rockwell said. Coppedge could have faced a minimum of five years in state prison if convicted of aggravated assault.

"There is scant evidence my client did this to her" daughter, Rockwell said in his closing argument. Rockwell said Coppedge did not know how her daughter was injured, "and it's not Ms. Coppedge's burden to prove how it happened."

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Rockwell argued that it would be difficult to restrain a child and place her in scalding water without the child splashing and causing other scalding injuries.

"Common sense suggests that's a pretty hard thing to do," Rockwell said.

A Johns Hopkins Hospital pediatrician had testified during the three-day trial that the straight demarcation lines of the burns on her legs and lower body were, in his opinion, intentionally inflicted, as were three loop-shaped bruises on her body.

"She is the only person responsible for Destiny's injuries," Assistant District Attorney Lauren Sulcove told the jury. The evidence showed that the daughter had been held in scalding water long enough "for her skin to bubble up and fall off," she said.

Evidence also showed that Coppedge, who lived in Waynesboro, Pa., at the time of the incident, waited more than an hour to take her daughter to Waynesboro Hospital, Sulcove said.

"Could it be she treated those injuries at home so she wouldn't have to go to the hospital?" Sulcove said. The mother also waited a few days to visit her daughter at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, she said.

The theory that the child sat still in the water until it became hot enough to cause injury was "completely incredible," Sulcove said.

Evidence that someone in Coppedge's home used a computer within hours of the incident to find information on methods used to diagnose child abuse in burn patients suggested "consciousness of guilt," Sulcove said.

Judge Douglas Herman set an Oct. 8 sentencing date for Coppedge, Rockwell said.

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