SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Court of Appeals has refused to dismiss charges against a couple accused of killing their baby in 2006 by sleeping with him — their second child to die in bed with them.
The appeals judges sided with a lower court in a pair of opinions released Friday concerning the death of 3-month-old Kayson Merrill. The infant died while in bed between his father, Trevor Merrill, and mother, Echo Nielsen, both 28, of South Jordan.
The judges said that while a state medical examiner listed the official cause of death as "undetermined," there was enough evidence that "co-sleeping" caused the baby to suffocate to put the parents on trial, the Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/ApQlaq ).
The parents, whose first child also died while sleeping with them in 2003, have been charged with child-abuse homicide and reckless endangerment. They have pleaded not guilty.
Defense attorneys argued there wasn't enough certainty to go to trial after the medical examiner also cited illness and low birth weight in his report.
But the appeals court disagreed, saying Utah judges have previously allowed experts "relying on their training and knowledge to provide opinions that do not amount to medical certainty."
Kayson Merill was put to sleep on his back, but found dead on his stomach.
He was too young to roll over on his own as a baby, evidence that "supports a reasonable inference that Trevor Merrill actually caused the infant to stop breathing by co-sleeping," according to the court's opinion.
The parents also had an infant daughter who died three years before while sleeping with them, but her death by positional asphyxia was listed as accidental.
The appeals court decided evidence of the first death could be admitted at trial, despite the objections of defense attorneys who argued it wasn't relevant and would prejudice the jury.
The judges ruled it could show Nielsen knew the risks of sleeping with her baby.
An attorney for Nielsen declined to comment, and Merrill's lawyer didn't immediately return a phone call.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com