December 5, 1997 in Idaho

Pettit Faces First-Degree Murder Rap Judge Finds ‘General Intent’ In Baby’s Death

Eric Sorensen Staff writer
 

A magistrate judge ruled on Thursday that David Pettit will stand trial on first-degree murder charges for the death of his 3-month-old daughter.

Latah County Judge William Hamlett said there is enough evidence to find probable cause that Pettit, 24, harmed his daughter with the “willful and unlawful use of violence” that led to her death.

Under Idaho law, willful and unlawful use of violence is a form of “general intent” that makes it comparable to committing a felony that leads to death - a category of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors already have said they will not seek the death penalty for Pettit, leaving him the possibility of life imprisonment if he doesn’t strike a plea bargain to a lesser charge.

Pettit, a former University of Idaho student, is accused of shaking his daughter so violently that it caused bleeding in her retinas and swelling of her brain on Oct. 2. X-rays and an autopsy revealed she had more than a half-dozen broken ribs in various stages of healing and a broken leg that led to her being placed in foster care for two weeks in August.

Had she survived, a doctor testified earlier in the week, she would have been blind and brain-damaged.

Pettit’s wife, Dawn, testified that he considered the child a burden and had referred to her as a “parasite” and “leech.”

Hamlett apparently tipped off lawyers in his chambers that he was likely to bind Pettit over to district court, where he is scheduled to appear next Wednesday. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Robin Eckmann spent only three minutes in her final argument.

James Siebe, Pettit’s co-defense counsel, spent about 15 minutes in his final argument and used the word “curious” about a dozen times to suggest that the case against his client is unclear. He argued that there were no admissions, witnesses or other evidence to link his client to the injuries cataloged by doctors.

He also argued that there is nothing to challenge the assertion that Pettit shook the baby simply because it was having trouble breathing, an act that at worst would lead to a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Hamlett acknowledged that the case against Pettit is largely circumstantial. However, he said, the baby went from being healthy and active on an Oct. 1 “well baby” checkup to being in “extreme distress” while Pettit was taking care of her the following day.

Hamlett said he was also struck by Pettit trying to talk his wife out of taking the baby to the hospital.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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