Saturday, October 5, 2013

Charges dismissed in death of Phoenix girl

Charges dismissed in death of Phoenix girl

Judge cites missing forensic reports, rules charges can be refiled
Savannah Cross
Savannah Cross 
Courtesy of Cathy Cross
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The Republic | azcentral.comTue Sep 24, 2013 8:10 AM
A Maricopa County judge dismissed murder and child-abuse charges against a couple indicted in the death of a 2-year-old girl left in their care after prosecutors failed to produce crucial forensic reports related to the fatality.
The dismissal left prosecutors a chance to refile the charges at a later date, and the victim’s family is confident that they will.
Savannah Cross died in December after she was taken to the hospital with bruises from head to toe. The 2-year-old girl was living with baby-sitters Ryan Alan Reed, 27, and Allison Ann Clement, 28, who were arrested hours later.
But the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office failed to produce a key autopsy report about Savannah’s death, and a prosecutor formerly assigned to the case repeatedly told a judge that the report was in the works — statements that turned out to be incorrect.
With prosecutors facing a statutory deadline to take the case to trial, and demands from Clement’s attorney to produce the autopsy report, prosecutors offered Judge Warren Granville the option of dismissing the murder and child-abuse charges.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in court documents blamed “significant miscommunication” between the pathologist and former prosecutor regarding the status of the forensic report, but the office also stated there was no intentional effort to mislead Granville.
The Medical Examiner’s Office said the complexity of child-abuse homicide investigations, the office’s high caseload and low staffing levels all contributed to the delayed report, which an out-of-state lab is completing.
A spokesman for the County Attorney’s Office said the autopsy is complete, but investigators are waiting for special tissue tests before they can move forward.
“This particular part of it, the review of those tissues, is something everyone’s waiting for now,” Jerry Cobb said. “What was said in court, clearly, was that the samples had gone out. All the parties were operating under that belief, but that didn’t happen.”
News of the dismissal was not completely unexpected for Savannah’s family members, who have been in frequent contact with investigators and prosecutors. But anticipating the possibility did nothing to ease the shock of learning that the charges were dismissed, said Cathy Cross, Savannah’s grandmother.
Cross blames Granville for the decision to dismiss the charges but said she remains confident that Reed and Clement will be back in court.
“The wheels on the bus turn slow, but that is no reason to overlook a grand-jury indictment just because it’s inconvenient for them to be sitting in jail,” Cross said. “I hope every night when they close their eyes they’re going to hear Savannah cry and moan in pain like she wailed all night long the night before she died.”
Savannah’s death in December caught the community’s attention due in part to the babysitting arrangement that left her in the constant care of Reed and Clement, and allegations about the extreme abuse and pain she endured before her death.
Clement told police that Savannah’s mother had left the girl in their care for 24 hours per day for five months before she died, with Savannah’s mother stopping by twice weekly to pay for the child care but otherwise showing little interest in her daughter.
Police were called to the home Reed and Clement shared in the 5400 block of South 45th Street in Phoenix shortly before 7 a.m. Dec. 11 and found Savannah receiving CPR when they arrived. She was pronounced dead at Maricopa County Medical Center about 30 minutes later, and hospital staff found she was covered in bruises when they examined her, according to court documents.
Reed told police that he put Savannah in her crib — a playpen on the floor with boxes of laminate flooring that served as a lid — and that he thought Savannah opened a box of sleeping pills the night before she was discovered.
“The box- and pill-card-style containers appeared pristine with the exception of the exact spot where the two pills were opened through the plastic side,” an investigator wrote.
Reed later told police that he disciplined Savannah by “smacking her with his open hand and flicking her with a coiled finger,” according to court documents.
Clement later “spontaneously” told investigators that Savannah bruised easily, and then admitted she was protecting Reed because she had seen him abuse Savannah.
Investigators later found evidence that Savannah was sexually abused, according to court documents.
Clement’s attorney, Chris Winchell, said some of his client’s statements to police have been mischaracterized and that she had no knowledge of Reed abusing Savannah until the morning police were called.
Clement will try to maintain custody of her own children when she is released from jail, Winchell said.
Both Clement and Reed remained in jail on Monday evening, but neither had outstanding warrants or probation violations, giving authorities no reason to keep them in custody once their paperwork is processed, according to a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
That process typically takes up to 24 hours, he said.
The pending dismissal of the charges against Reed and Clement has done nothing to affect the status of the investigation into Savannah’s death, said Phoenix police Sgt. Trent Crump, a department spokesman.
“We are prepared to see this case through,” Crump said. “Our ultimate goal is to seek justice for the victim in this case.”

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