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Smithield woman said she shook baby, trooper testifies

| Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A Fayette County woman accused of violently shaking her 14-month-old son — until he suffered permanent brain injuries — told police he would not stop crying after having kept her up all night, two state policemen told a jury on Monday.

“She wasn't having a good morning,” testified Trooper Daniel Boyd as he recounted an oral statement Jessica Rhodes gave to police four days after her son was hurt.

“She was frustrated because she didn't get any sleep,” Boyd said during the first day of Rhodes' trial before President Judge John F. Wagner Jr. in Uniontown.

“When he wouldn't stop crying, she shook him until he stopped,” Boyd said.

Rhodes, 20, of Smithfield is charged with aggravated assault, child endangerment, simple assault and reckless endangerment.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Mehalov is seeking to prove Rhodes violently shook her toddler in her mobile home on Dec. 1, 2012. The boy, now 2, suffered a traumatic brain injury, Mehalov said in an opening statement to jurors.

Rhodes initially told troopers her son was injured when he fell from a standing position and hit his head on the floor, according to Trooper John Krause.

“She said he crawled over to a couch, and he started to climb up that couch,” Krause testified. “He fell backward on his butt, then fell backward on his head.”

Boyd testified that Rhodes repeated the same story four days later but added the part about shaking the boy when she was advised his injuries were too severe to have been caused by the fall.

Rhodes told troopers her son's eyes “got big” and he became unresponsive after she shook him, Boyd testified.

Rhodes said, “I didn't even realize what I had done until it was too late,” Boyd testified, reading from a written statement she gave to police.

“I'm truly sorry and willing to do whatever it takes to have my son in my arms again,” Rhodes wrote.

Under questioning by defense attorney Thomas Shaffer of Uniontown, Boyd and Krause testified they did not advise Rhodes of her Miranda rights to remain silent and not speak without an attorney until after she said she had shaken her son.

Boyd testified Rhodes was not advised of her rights when police first spoke with her on Dec. 1 because the officers did not know a crime had occurred until days later, when doctors advised the troopers of the extent of the boy's injuries.

Rhodes was a suspect when the troopers spoke with her four days later in a closed-door, private room at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville, Boyd testified.

The officers were under no legal obligation to advise her of her rights at the start of the interview because she was not under arrest, Boyd testified.

Both troopers testified that immediately after Rhodes told them she had shaken her baby, they stopped the interview to advise her of her rights.

Rhodes is free on $10,000 bond. The trial is scheduled to resume on Tuesday before Wagner.

Shaffer said Rhodes' son is in the care of his grandmother.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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