Jasper County finds man guilty of killing 3-month-old baby boy in 2013

Jasper County finds man guilty of killing 3-month-old baby boy in 2013
Justin Havard (Source: Jasper County Jail)

JASPER, TX (KTRE) - After deliberating for about five hours, a Jasper County jury found a man guilty of killing a 3-month-old baby boy in November of 2013.

The jury found Justin Havard guilty of first-degree murder. Now that a verdict has been reached in the case, the jury will decide on Havard's sentence. Because the charge is a first-degree felony, he faces up to life in prison.

The courtroom was full for the third day of Havard's trial. After the charges were read, the jury was informed that Havard had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Ryland McDaniel.

The judge also outlined the jury's responsibility in finding that the State proved Havard is guilty without a shadow of doubt. Closing arguments began as the State passed their right to begin by asking the defense to go first. 
"When you go home, and you think, 'Maybe I made a mistake,' you can't come back and say, 'Judge Gibbs, I think I made a mistake,'" Gertz said. "That doesn't get to happen; it all ends with you."
"This was a tragedy. a child is dead, and we have a family torn apart, two families torn apart," Gertz said as Havard began to cry. "However, this trial is not about sympathy, and your vote cannot be driven by sympathy."
Gertz explained this is about proving the indictment that says that the child was hit with or against something, and violently shaken. Gertz said that the State did not prove without a shadow of a doubt that this was done intentionally. 
"I do not fault the officers for doing their job because I know they are doing the best they can with the limited information they have, but the officers did get a little passionate," Gertz said. "They interrogated him for a number of hours, disrespecting him by calling him names like son even though they are from the same generation of people."
The defense brought up that once again, the indictment states that District Attorney Hollis must prove that Ryland was hit with or against something, and violently shaken. He then brought up a statement from, a previous trial.
"I am going to object to stating facts outside of the trial. That's not our theory of the case, shaken baby syndrome is not," the transcript read.
Gertz said that because the indictment includes the baby was killed by shaken baby syndrome, yet that was not proven in evidence the state presented. Gertz said this means they must vote not guilty. 
"You can also hear on the video of a witness the state themselves brought to the stand that nine minutes into the video he said, 'He's choking'," Gertz said. 
The defense brought up the diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia that was made before Ryland died.

Acute bleeding is seven to 10 days, and that's important because that gives you 10 days that this baby was with other people, and something could have happened that was not detected until later, she gave the most important testimony of the trial," Gertz said, 
He repeated that substantial evidence was not given to prove that Havard is guilty, and asked the jury to reflect on this so Havard could go home to his family.
Hollis began closing arguments on behalf of the state by challenging something Gertz repeated that Havard was upset when police arrived.
"Wouldn't his honest answers have helped Ryland? The baby was still alive at this point, so they are working quick," Hollis said. "The fact that this man knew something like this was happening and was throwing out options to what could have happened."
Hollis outlined the breakdown and timeline of events that happened the day of the accident and the time following the child's death. Hollis repeated that during the first interview, Havard never mentioned Ryland was dropped, and only mentioned he found him choking.
"There is evidence that baby was being shaken around, blood in the eyes, blood in the spinal cord, something had to have triggered this," Hollis said. "Blunt trauma of the torso, blunt trauma of the extremities, all of this happened because of what this man did."
Medical records following the child's death state that blunt force trauma was the cause of death, and homicide is what doctors ruled fit this situation. Next they compared the injuries to what Havard initially stated.
"Five days past, and this man comes forward and says he dropped this baby five feet onto the hard bedroom floor," Hollis said. "Two of those five days, that baby was dying and now he wants to minimize what happened."
"Mean old Garrett Foster made me change my story.' Really? Slamming a baby doll on a counter is going to make you confess to a murder you didn't commit?" Hollis said. "In the real world, I'm sorry that just doesn't work."
He then questioned why Havard admitted to a murder he didn't commit.
"What would it take a loving parent to admit to a murder he didn't commit? I used to read tales of Vietnam soldiers who were tortured by having bamboo stuck under their fingernails, but I don't even think that would make a loving parent admit that," Hollis said. "
"In a perfect world people wouldn't hurt babies and lie about it. They wouldn't change their story saying he held him up by the next, dropped him on the floor, and then shakes him and tells them to stop crying," Hollis said. "Then when he comes back in, and he's choking? I wonder why he's choking."
The state finished closing arguments and the jury will begin deliberations to decide the fate for Justin Havard.

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