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|PUBLISHED: 10-19-06 5:00 AM EST|
Testimony focuses on Christian Gauvin
Prosecutors have always depicted Michelle Gauvin as the person primarily responsible for the beating death of her 4-year-old stepdaughter, Aiyana.
But despite Gauvin's guilty plea to murder, her defense attorneys took swipes at that image Wednesday during the first day of her penalty trial.
Their efforts to depict Aiyana's father and Michelle's husband, Christian, as the real monster in the household got some assistance from prosecution witnesses who said they were shocked by Christian's unemotional reaction to his daughter's death.
"I've been at a lot of death notifications. I've seen a lot of different reactions, but that reaction -- my first reaction was he already knew; when he left for work, he knew," Sgt. Scott Hodson said, describing the way Christian reacted when Hodson told him Aiyana was dead.
Judge Thomas Busch of Tippecanoe Superior Court 2 began hearing evidence Wednesday about aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the murder case.
Next week, he is expected to decide whether Michelle Gauvin should be sentenced to life in prison without parole or a fixed term of years. Gauvin has waived her right to a jury.
Christian Gauvin, who is charged with Class A felony neglect of a dependent, won't go on trial until Oct. 30.
But in some respects he was on trial Wednesday as Michelle's lawyers asserted he was controlling, explosive and violent. It was fear of Christian that prevented Michelle from seeking medical help for Aiyana the night of March 15, when she said she came home and discovered the girl had been badly beaten.
That was the account Michelle gave last month when she pleaded guilty to murder and two Class B counts of neglect.
Thomas O'Brien, lead lawyer on the three-attorney team representing Michelle, said prosecutors will not be able to prove one of the two aggravating factors prosecutors are using to convince Busch to impose life without parole -- that Aiyana was tortured before her death.
The reaction that Hodson described was observed after Christian had been brought home from his job at Wabash National Corp. the morning Aiyana was found dead.
Numerous witnesses testified Wednesday that Michelle Gauvin was hysterical and repeatedly tried to revive Aiyana, even though the girl was not breathing, had no pulse and was cold to the touch.
The drama took place the morning of March 16, 2005, in the Gauvin home in the Prairie Oaks subdivision south of Lafayette.
Hodson said Aiyana's body was laid on the living room sofa. He said he covered the badly bruised body with a blanket because, "It seemed like the right thing to do."
Shown a photograph of Aiyana's body in court, Hodson declined to look at it.
"Is this why you covered her up?" Bean asked. "You're not looking at that, sergeant. ... Why not?"
"I don't want to," Hodson replied, fighting to keep his composure.
Witnesses said it took five people to pry Aiyana out of Michelle's arms.
In contrast, Christian Gauvin appeared calm, relaxed and unemotional during a two-hour videotaped statement he gave to then-detective Mick Gillen the morning of Aiyana's death.
Asked how Aiyana had become so bruised, Christian Gauvin said she had been having tantrums in the days leading up to her death in which she would throw herself on the floor and kick and bang her head on the walls. He said he had known her to pull her own hair out.
But Christian told Gillen he had spent about an hour and a half with Aiyana the evening before she died. He said she had stared at him while he watched television. He said he was asleep when Michelle put Aiyana to bed and he had not looked in on Aiyana before Michelle took him to work at 5:30 a.m. the morning his daughter was found dead.
Busch declined to view Michelle's videotaped statement to Gillen, noting that he already had viewed the statement as part of a pretrial hearing.
Wednesday's evidence concluded with testimony from other sheriff's department detectives who set up a design of the 6-foot by 10-foot room Michelle and Christian had built for Aiyana inside the home's unheated, attached garage.
The room had a toddler bed that police found was covered with play equipment. A video recording of the home showed the tiny room was filled with other children's play equipment, leaving only a 4-foot by 4-foot plastic tray for Aiyana to sit or lie on.
The bed had no sheets or blankets, and the room, which detectives said felt 10 to 15 degrees colder than the rest of the house, had only a particle board floor.
Detective Lt. Steve Kohne testified that during a subsequent search of the house, police found a set of photos of Aiyana that had been crumbled into a ball and stashed in a kitchen cabinet.
Kohne described the photos as "a collage of Aiyana in different states of bondage, in disarray, and with different injuries to her body."
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