Larsen ‘did a bad thing’: Crown

By Sue Yanagisawa
Local News - Thursday, October 14, 2004 @ 07:00

Cheryl Larsen is not an abusive person, but she took out her frustrations on young Brody Albert in December 2002, Crown attorney Bruce Griffith said yesterday in his closing argument at Larsen’s manslaughter trial.

Larsen – a 33-year-old mother of three – was babysitting 22-month-old Brody when the toddler suffered what would prove to be fatal injuries.

“In this isolated instance,” Griffith said, Larsen “took it out on Brody Albert.”

Griffith and assistant Crown Laurie Lacelle made their closing argument yesterday, wrapping up Larsen’s three-week trial at the Superior Court of Justice. Final submissions in Larsen’s defence were presented Tuesday by Clyde Smith, half of the defence team.

Griffith noted that Smith had made it an element of the defence that Larsen was “simply not the kind of person who would shake a baby boy in her care.”

But “it does happen,” Griffith told the court, “and good people do bad things.”

“It is our submission that Mrs. Larsen did a bad thing,” Griffith said. “She shook Brody and he died. She ought to have known better.”

Justice Helen MacLeod has reserved her decision in the case until Dec. 16.

The Alberts and the Larsens are military families. Cheryl Larsen’s husband, Maj. Mark Larsen, and Brody’s father, Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Albert, met while working at CFB Kingston.

Cheryl Larsen was a member of the military for six years and achieved the rank of corporal working in administrative services before her children were born. While pregnant with her first son, she applied for the force reduction plan, however. Since then she’s devoted herself to being a housewife and mother, except during a brief period when she returned to work for a law firm she had worked for before she was married. She began babysitting other people’s children after she and her husband moved to a small community about 50 kilometres from Borden, Ont., and at one time looked after a six-month-old and two preschool-aged children from other families, in addition to her own young sons

The Larsens moved to Kingston in the summer of 1998. In 2002, with only her youngest son not yet in school, she began babysitting Brody Albert.

Larsen made the 911 call shortly after 9 a.m. on Dec. 6, 2002, for the ambulance that rushed Brody from her home on Pembridge Crescent to Kingston General Hospital. He had suffered a closed head brain injury and underwent emergency surgery that morning.

Larsen claimed the boy was injured when he fell down the carpeted basement stairs to the carpeted basement floor of her home. But the doctors who worked on Brody rejected that scenario and his injuries were flagged, even before his death, as consistent with shaken baby syndrome.

Four of the 12 days it took for the evidence to be heard in Larsen’s case were devoted to testimony from medical experts, four of whom were directly involved in Brody’s case. A fifth reviewed their findings and concurred with their diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome.

Only Dr. John J. Plunkett, a certified anatomic, clinical and forensic pathologist from Minnesota called by the defence, dismissed the possibility of the boy’s injuries being caused by shaking. Plunkett testified that the boy’s brain injury could have resulted from a relatively short fall and that the swelling in his brain accounted for both the hemorrhages in his eyes and nerve damage that was found on autopsy.

Assistant Crown attorney Lacelle told the court that “it’s certainly the medical evidence that provides the most fundamental basis that an act of shaking was responsible” for Brody’s death.

She argued that the willingness of the majority of the medical experts to admit under defence questioning that other remote possibilities exist doesn’t raise a reasonable doubt about their diagnosis.

“I think the court should be troubled by a witness who won’t acknowledge other possibilities,” she said, referring to Plunkett’s rejection of the existence of shaken baby syndrome.

She also noted that the assistant coroner from Minnesota lacked the pediatrics credentials and the specialist expertise to challenge the other medical witnesses.

Lacelle told Justice MacLeod that “certainly it’s possible there was a fall,” but it didn’t cause Brody’s injuries. She argued that on the evidence, “the court ought to be satisfied that shaking was the mechanism of injury in this case, followed by an impact.”

Lacelle added that it’s not necessary for the Crown to prove what the triggering event was, but it could have been a fall.

Griffith reminded the judge that Larsen had said as much in the latter half of a 3½-hour videotaped interview with a Kingston Police detective the day after Brody was admitted to hospital.

Larsen’s defence, Griffith said, is predicated on her claim that she never shook the boy and that when she made statements to police suggesting that she might have hurt him, “those were basically words put in her mouth” by the interviewer, Det. Sgt. Carolyn Rice.

He scoffed at the defence claim that Larsen didn’t understand her legal jeopardy when she agreed to the interview or that she didn’t understand she was a suspect.

“She knew the night before,” Griffith told the judge, because the boy’s paternal grandmother told her that police and the Children’s Aid Society would be called. “If you’re the only adult and you’re the only caregiver when a baby is injured so badly they might not make it, and you’re called to go to the police station the next day– nobody is that naive.”

Griffith said that Larsen wasn’t manipulated by the detective and that Larsen’s account of Brody falling down stairs shows “she’s trying to set up the theory of an accident.”

He also challenged Larsen’s claim that she wasn’t under any particular stress in the week before Brody’s death or the morning he was injured. He told the court that her “anxiousness, frustration and fear is clearly supported by her own words.”

Reading from the transcript of Larsen’s interview with Rice, he suggested she demonstrated those emotions when she said “I shook him and I hit his head on the floor.” When Rice asked her why, she responded, “Because I was scared, he was being clumsy again.”

She went on to tell the detective that she didn’t want Brody going home with a fat lip or bruises, and complained that “it’s just everything that happens, it happens on a Friday when he has to go visiting.”

Larsen told Rice in an interview the next day that she was upset because she knew the toddler was supposed to visit his paternal grandparents that weekend and “Steve’s mom has been saying things about me ever since I started babysitting.”