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Defense Says Father Didn’t Know Better Lawyer Says Client Threw Baby Out Of Frustration

Thu., June 22, 1995, midnight

David Pelletier shakes his fussy 3-month-old daughter. He is angry, frustrated.

He swears at the baby. “What do you want me to do?”

Pelletier lifts the crying child over his head, throws her in the direction of the living room sofa.

Courtney Pelletier’s tiny body slams into the sofa’s oak frame, rendering her unconscious - and brain-damaged.

The 20-year-old father admits doing all this last December, his lawyer told a Spokane County jury Wednesday.

In an unusual defense to child abuse, Assistant Public Defender Kevin Curtis argued that Pelletier didn’t know better because he never took a parenting class. He couldn’t feed or diaper a baby.

Pelletier shouldn’t be on trial for first-degree assault, facing a 10-year prison sentence, because he didn’t mean to harm the baby, Curtis said in his opening statement.

“He tried everything that he knew…and that was very little,” Curtis said.

The night of Dec. 7, when Courtney Pelletier showed signs of coming down with a cold, her father was left in charge.

The girl’s mother, Tina Williams, had a baby-sitting job to go to.

Pelletier, then 19, tried comforting the baby. He held her, put her in a child swing, according to Curtis.

But the baby continued to cry. Minutes turned into hours, and the young father began to panic.

He threw the baby.

Minutes later, Williams returned to their West Sharp apartment. Her fiance was in the bathroom, trying to revive the baby by splashing cold water on her face.

When Williams, 20, saw her “limp and blue” daughter, she screamed and called 911, Deputy Prosecutor Dawn Cortez said.

The victim was rushed by ambulance to Sacred Heart Medical Center with a major skull fracture, internal bleeding and bruises on her right ear, shoulder and ankles.

“She nearly died from these injuries,” the prosecutor said. “It’s a miracle she has recovered as much as she has.”

Today, 9-month-old Courtney Pelletier suffers from seizures and poor vision. She is expected to be mildly mentally retarded as a result of the head injuries.

Outside the courtroom, Williams said she broke off her engagement with Pelletier and wants him to be punished for what he did, even if it means time in prison.

Pelletier, a fast-food worker, was arrested Dec. 8 after initially lying to police about how the baby was hurt. In his first account of the incident, he claimed the child was lying on the sofa and suddenly stopped breathing.

But Curtis said his client was dazed at the time.

“He believed he was in some sort of nightmare,” the attorney said. “He didn’t want to believe what he had done. He didn’t want to believe what he had caused.”

Police said the abuse was witnessed by Pelletier’s 3-year-old stepson, who told detectives, “Daddy was mean.”

Pelletier wiped tears from his eyes Wednesday as a child-abuse expert testified about the baby’s injuries.

Dr. Deborah Harper, a Spokane pediatrician, said the force that caused the skull fracture was equivalent to a fall from a second-floor window.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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