Crown: ‘You never said … you did not kill Brody'

By Sue Yanagisawa
Local News - Friday, October 08, 2004 @ 07:00

All of the evidence is now in at the trial of Cheryl Ann Larsen, the Kingston mother of three charged with manslaughter in the December 2002 death of 22-month-old Brody Albert, a toddler she was babysitting at the time.

Tuesday, her defence team of Peter Kemp and Clyde Smith, and the lawyers who prosecuted her case, Crown attorney Bruce Griffith and assistant Crown Laurie Lecelle, will wrap up with what are expected to be lengthy final arguments in front of Justice Helen MacLeod.

Larsen completed her own testimony yesterday morning, with Griffith questioning why, in light of her claim she did nothing to harm Brody, she didn’t say precisely that to Det. Sgt. Carolyn Rice during two videotaped interviews.

Brody was rushed from Larsen’s Pembridge Crescent home to hospital on the morning of Dec. 6, 2002. Larsen was interviewed by Rice at Kingston Police headquarters the next day and arrested for aggravated assault.

When Brody died the following day from his brain injury, Rice broke the news to Larsen, who was still in police custody, and told her that she was going to be charged with his death.

“You never said to [Rice] you did not kill Brody,” Griffith challenged.

Larsen replied that she wasn’t thinking clearly at that point because she was in “an emotional state.”

Larsen maintains that Brody received his brain injury in a fall down her basement stairs and has suggested that one of her two cats may have been on the stairs at the time.

The Crown has been trying to prove Brody was a victim of shaken baby syndrome.

Larsen testified for about five hours Wednesday about her background, her child rearing philosophy, her last day with Brody and the preceding events of that week – which she’d recounted to Rice during their initial interview while Brody was still alive but failing in hospital.

On Tuesday of that week she’d turned 32 years old and she told Rice that her vacuum cleaner had broken down, she’d had a minor car accident involving a friend’s car and her youngest son had been acting up.

Larsen’s husband, Maj. Mark Larsen, had also been away from home for eight weeks on a military training course in Winnipeg and Larsen herself was taking an online accounting course.

Her lawyer, Smith, asked her if caring for her three young sons and Brody had become a handful.

“Everybody raises children differently and everyone’s tolerance is different,” Larsen responded. “What appears to be a handful for some isn’t a handful for others.”

Larsen was emotional and appeared distraught in the tapes made with Rice and in her trial testimony she pointed out that the police officer had specifically asked her what else had been going on that week.

“Birthdays aren’t a stressful thing,” she told the court, “I was just making conversation.”

She also downplayed her

fender-bender, telling the court there was no damage to her friend’s car. “It was my pride that was hurt, because it was careless of me and dopey not to do my usual check,” she said.

As for the broken vacuum cleaner, Larsen told the court she and her husband had discussed replacing it, but said she was in no hurry that week and only found it “irritating.”

She did admit to one bad day when irritation overwhelmed her, however: Wednesday evening of that week, when she told Brody’s mother, Julie Albert, that she didn’t want to babysit him any more.

At the time, Wednesdays were karate nights for Larsen and her sons and she said that Julie Albert had been late picking up Brody that Wednesday.

Larsen said she was getting Brody ready “doing the boot thing” and getting him into his outdoor clothes for the trip home. She was trying to teach the toddler to put on his own boots and zip his own jacket.

“It’s an independence thing,” she explained to Smith, and she’d spent considerable time coaxing him through it when his mother arrived and zipped his coat and picked him up.

Larsen said she watched her do it and that’s when she announced, “I can’t do this anymore,” and told Brody’s mother she no longer wanted to babysit for her.

“That day it was going through my head we were on two different wavelengths about what he had to learn to do for himself and what was done for him,” Larsen testified.

So, “at that particular moment in time I thought my 20 minutes of teaching him just went out the window.”

Larsen recalled that Brody’s mother burst into tears and she told the court she was immediately sorry and embarrassed. She said she felt so badly she didn’t stay for her own karate class. When she arrived home to find a message on her phone she called Brody’s mother right back. She told Albert to disregard her earlier outburst and recalled saying: “Now you know I’m not Wonder Woman.”

Larsen told the court that she and her husband discussed how they wanted to raise their children before they were married and agreed that they would never yell or spank them. Friends and neighbours who testified on her behalf attested that the Larsens don’t yell or spank.

Larsen testified that she began babysitting Brody before he was a year old and felt like he was one of her own. She said she was involved in most of his developmental milestones.

“Anyone who’s looking after children at that age has to help them advance their skills,” she told the court.

Before he died, Brody was learning to talk. “Talking was generally an everyday thing that I tried with him,” she told the court, recalling that “single words were no problem.”

She was trying to get him to use short phrases, she said, such as “up please” and “thank you” and recalled that he had an easier time with the latter, pronouncing it “tank you.”

One day she asked him if he wanted to try sitting on the toilet and “he said ‘yes’ and I put him on the toilet and he went.”

Larsen told the court “it was great. He was quite young to be doing that. I think around 18 months.”

And when she told Julie Albert “she thought it was great.”

Evidence presented at the trial suggests that Larsen didn’t remain impressed with Brody’s toilet training and dressing skills, however. She said she was frustrated with him in an online message – reconstructed by police – to her husband the morning Brody was injured.

Griffith asked Larsen about the wisdom of telling a 22-month-old to climb a set of stairs unassisted while holding a pair of pants, as Larsen has testified she did with Brody just before she claims he fell.

She responded that he climbed stairs with things in his hands all the time.

“If it’s OK for him to walk downstairs holding a blanket or a teddy bear I would expect pants would be the same,” she said.

She also suggested that when she’d recited her woes to Rice, she was projecting her emotions onto the trivial.

“The little boy I was babysitting was injured and in hospital and my world was coming apart,” she told the court.

The case continues Tuesday at 10 a.m. in the Frontenac County Court House.