Defense attorneys for Jonathan Lytle, accused of torturing his daughter to death last year, indicated Thursday they would try to lay all the blame on the 4-year-old’s stepmother when his homicide by abuse trial begins Monday.
Lytle’s wife, Adriana Lytle, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in the death of Summer Phelps, who was beaten, bitten and burned before she died in a Spokane hospital in March 2007. On Thursday, Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Price heard motions by the defense and prosecution in advance of the father’s trial.
Today, Price will decide whether jurors can be told about an electronic shock collar – typically used to train dogs – that Summer was forced to wear. Defense attorneys say the collar did not directly contribute to Summer’s death and discussing it in court would unfairly prejudice jurors.
On Monday, the judge will rule on a defense motion to close to the public any jury questioning relating to potential jurors’ experiences with child abuse.
During Thursday’s hearing, Price ordered defense attorneys Edward Carroll and Dennis Dressler to give prosecutors a written explanation of the general nature of their defense of Lytle and the substance of expected testimony from defense witnesses.
Specifically, Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz wanted to know what Mark Mays, a Spokane psychologist and candidate for the U.S. 5th District congressional seat, and Dr. William Brady, a former medical examiner in Portland, will discuss and whether they have done any scientific testing that will be presented as evidence.
“We are not required to guess,” Steinmetz told the court.
Dressler said Mays would provide expert testimony about parenting and Brady would respond to testimony by prosecution witness Dr. Sally Aiken, a Spokane County medical examiner.
In the course of Thursday’s hearing, Dressler revealed that the defense team does not intend to present an alibi or insanity defense. Rather, it will contend that Adriana, and not Jonathan Lytle, was responsible for Summer’s death.
Also Thursday, Price ruled that jury selection would begin with a panel of 75 prospective jurors. Dressler argued that the panel was too small considering the substantial media attention that has been brought to the case.
One would have to have been “living in a cave” not to have heard of this case, Dressler told the judge.
Price said the court administrator was unable to produce a larger pool of jurors. Neither defense nor prosecution requested a continuance of the case, which has taken 19 months to come to trial.