The sexual assault and murder trial of Benjamin Taylor began Wednesday and included testimony from the mother of the 10-month-old victim, as well as from the medical examiner who ruled her death a homicide.
According to police and the prosecution, Emmaleigh Barringer was sexually assaulted and suffered blunt-force trauma sometime overnight between Oct. 2 and Oct. 3. She died Oct. 5 at Charleston Area Medical Center when she was removed from life support at the request of her family, according to testimony.
The prosecution alleges that after the victim’s mother, Amanda Adkins, and her other three children went to bed, Taylor raped and brutalized the infant in the basement of their government-assisted housing at No. 8 Meadowlark Lane, which has a Ripley address but is located in Fairplain.
In her opening statement, Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Katie Franklin said the state would prove that Taylor “violated (the victim) in the most brutal way imaginable.”
Conducting his opening statement, defense attorney Tim Rosinsky said investigators were “myopic” and too quick to arrest Taylor without eliminating other possibilities. He also said he would point out forensic inconsistencies that would raise concerns and doubt about Taylor’s guilt.
Not only were investigators too single-minded in their focus, they did not follow up when additional evidence was presented, Rosinsky said.
“I will cast aspersions on how quickly the case was wrapped up and take issue with what they did when there was new evidence,” he said.
When Adkins took the stand, Franklin asked her to tell the jury about her daughter, whose nickname was “Emma.” She said the girl was born eight weeks early and was underweight.
“She was a fighter,” Adkins said.
Barringer was intellectually advanced for her age, Adkins said. She was crawling a great deal and had just started to learn to walk.
Adkins also testified that Taylor was her boyfriend, but the relationship was “not exactly serious.” Adkins said Taylor was “practically” living with her and her four children, which included the victim and three older children, two boys and another girl. Taylor occasionally helped with the children and household chores, Adkins said.
“As far as I could tell, everything was normal,” she said.
Whenever Taylor would stay over, Adkins said, he would sleep in her room. The two boys shared one of the three bedrooms, and the victim and her older sister shared the other, Adkins testified.
The apartment had three floors. The bedrooms were on the top floor. The kitchen, dining room and living room were on the second floor. The lower level consisted of an unfinished basement, which included a laundry area, according to testimony. There are two exterior doors – the front door and a back door leading out of the basement. One key unlocks both doors and Adkins testified she had the only copy.
According to Adkins’ testimony, Oct. 2 was a school night. Everyone except Taylor and one of her sons went to bed around 8 p.m. Taylor and Adkins’ son stayed up for a while watching a movie or playing with cars in the living room, she said.
Adkins testified that she woke up once that night – sometime around 1 a.m. – and found that Taylor was not in bed with her. Shortly after 4 a.m., Adkins woke up a second time and again noticed Taylor was not in bed.
When Adkins woke up the second time, she had gum stuck in her hair. She testified that this probably came from one of her sons, who had crawled into bed with her sometime during the night. After cutting the gum out of her hair with a pair of scissors, she checked the rest of the apartment for Taylor and found him in the unfinished basement.
“Benji had Emma out on a pile of blankets on the floor like he was drying her off,” Adkins testified.
Adkins told the court it appeared as if Taylor was wiping the baby off with a towel or a blanket. As she approached, she said, she realized something was wrong. Taylor was shirtless and his pants were unbuttoned. The baby was naked, she testified.
It was revealed in court that Adkins quickly suspected Taylor had done something to the girl. She testified to punching Taylor in the face, taking the baby in her arms, and going upstairs to call 911. She grabbed a blanket because the baby was “freezing.” She said the baby also was lethargic and wasn’t breathing normally.
The prosecution played two separate 911 recordings from the morning of Oct. 3. The first was from when Adkins called 911 shortly before 5 a.m., and the second was from when a 911 dispatcher called back after Adkins disconnected the call.
On the recording, a frantic Adkins could be heard shouting expletives, accusations, and threats at Taylor.
“I’m going to kill you,” she said. “I think he (expletive) raped her.”
Adkins made several similar statements on the recording.
“What the (expletive) were you doing?” she said. “Why is she naked?”
Adkins testified that she disconnected the 911 call in order to call her grandmother to come watch her other children while she went to the hospital with the baby.
The 911 center called back, and Adkins could be heard continuing to scream questions at Taylor on the second 911 recording.
“Why is she naked, Benji?” she said. “Why do you have blood on you?”
In his cross-examination of Adkins, Rosinski asked about the family’s apartment building. She testified her block of apartments has four units. She also said she was certain the front door was locked when she went to bed. Adkins said she didn’t recall checking the basement door that night, but she believed it was locked because that door was rarely used. She also said Taylor would sometimes go outside and smoke at night.
Adkins also testified that no one else was at her apartment that night. She had friends over earlier in the evening – a couple and their children – but they did not stay long.
When asked by Rosinski if there had been any drug use in the home that evening, Adkins testified that she had consumed part of a 23-ounce 4 Loco and Taylor had a “few beers.” She said they also smoked a marijuana cigarette that evening.
Adkins testified that when she discovered Taylor and the baby in the basement, Taylor did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
Paramedic Ryan DeViese with Jackson County Emergency Medical services testified to the treatment Barringer received before leaving the scene and while en route to the hospital. When the medical crew arrived at the residence, he said, a woman came running up to him with a baby wrapped in a pink blanket.
The crew took the baby into the back of the ambulance and began assessing her condition, he said. DeViese said the child was limp, lethargic, and unresponsive. He also said she did not have a pulse and was displaying agonal breathing, or gasping respiration.
Barringer did not appear to be actively bleeding, DeViese said, but there was blood around her groin area and inner thighs. He said the EMS crew was able to get a heartbeat while the ambulance was en route to Jackson General Hospital.
Once at the hospital, Barringer was treated by Dr. Stephen Eshenour and the trauma team at the emergency department. Eshenour testified to the care she received at JGH prior to being transferred to Charleston Area Medical Center.
Eshenour said the baby was hypothermic and had labored respiration. She was turning blue and had mottled skin. She was unresponsive and had blood around her mouth and in her private areas, where the crew applied a pressure dressing. She also had bruising around both eyes, as well as in the area of her clavicle and on her abdomen. She was at JGH for approximately two hours.
“Her injuries were far more severe than what can be handled at this facility,” Eshenour said.
Dr. Joan Phillips is a co-medical director and child abuse pediatric specialist with CAMC Health System. She testified to the care Barringer received once she arrived at CAMC.
“When I arrived, there were a lot of lifesaving events going on,” Phillips said.
She testified that she performed a sexual-assault examination (also called a rape kit) in the operating room at CAMC.
West Virginia Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Allen Mock said Barringer sustained head injuries that could have only been caused by blunt-force trauma, which means the head struck something hard or something hard was used to strike the head. He testified that the girl sustained a three-inch skull fracture.
Mock said the victim had a number of other injuries, from bruising around her eyes to severe vaginal tearing that caused bleeding that contributed to her death.
Testimony was set to continue Thursday morning at 9 a.m.