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Murder suspect: 'I never hit my daughter'

| Thursday, June 3, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

A Penn Hills woman on trial for third-degree murder in the 2002 death of her toddler testified Wednesday that she never abused the girl.

"I never hit my daughter; she's not a bad baby," said Tia Banks, 21, referring in the present tense to her daughter, Atia, who was 2 years old when she died.

Banks told jurors that the night Atia suffered a fatal head injury Dec. 15, 2002, she gave the girl to her boyfriend, Donald Williams, of the East Hills, so Williams could give her a bath. The child grew sick after being put to bed, Banks testified, and had to be rushed to the hospital.

Atia died seven days later.

Williams, 22, testified earlier that Banks bathed Atia the night she was hurt, and that he heard a thumping sound followed by the child's screams coming from the bathroom.

Doctors who treated Atia the night she was brought to the hospital had testified that Banks told them she had bathed Atia and that the girl had defecated in her bath water.

Williams pleaded guilty April 5 to involuntary manslaughter in Atia's death, but Assistant District Attorney Laura Ditka argues that Banks either was directly involved in the girl's death or allowed Williams to continue abusing the child.

Banks also is facing aggravated assault, child endangerment and reckless endangering charges.

An autopsy found one new bruise and one old one on Atia's brain, suggesting more than one incident of abuse. Coroner's officials testified that the fatal injury was likely caused by the child's head being struck on a firm-but-padded surface such as a changing table.

Ditka and defense lawyer Glenn Dolfi Sr. are to make closing arguments today before Allegheny County Judge Kathleen A. Durkin.

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