Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 restrictions, reporters are not allowed inside of the courtroom for this trial, but are able to watch court proceedings through live stream. Toward the end of today’s court proceedings, the state of Indiana’s online server for remote video hearings crashed. The server crashed while Nick and Sherry Leeman, the victim’s parents, were testifying. As a result, our story does not include quotes from their testimonies.
By Liz Shepherd
COLUMBIA CITY — Twelve jury members and two alternates were selected Monday, July 27, on the first day of what is expected to be a five-day trial over the April 2018 death of a Pierceton infant.
Courtney Leann Kincaid, 30, 2848 N. CR 350W, Columbia City, is charged with aggravated battery and neglect of a dependent resulting in death, both level 1 felonies; and battery with death to a person under 14 years old, a level 2 felony.
Kincaid is accused of severely injuring Emma Grace Leeman, an 11-month-old infant who later died as a result of her injuries on April 13, 2018.
If found guilty, Kincaid could face up to 110 years in prison. The advisory sentence recommended by the state is 77 1/2 years.
Kincaid’s attorneys are Zach and Brad Baber, Columbia City. Representing the state is Whitley County Prosecutor Daniel Sigler, Jr.
According to court documents, on April 12, 2018, a Whitley County Sheriff’s detective received a report of serious injury to Emma. The officer, along with a Department of Child Services caseworker, responded to the hospital where the child was being treated.
The child’s parents reported Emma had been left with a babysitter, Kincaid, at 7 a.m. that morning. Emma’s parents said the child recently had a fever, but that only a runny nose continued. They also reported the child had suffered a black eye and small laceration to one of her eyelids in early March while under Kincaid’s care.
Officers then received a search warrant for Kincaid’s residence in Whitley County. Kincaid confirmed with officers that Emma was acting tired, the same as every morning. When recalling the morning’s events, Kincaid did not mention falls or injuries occurring to Emma.
A pediatrician told officers that, in his opinion, the injury could not have happened prior to Emma being left with Kincaid at 7 a.m. The physician showed the officer a head CT for Emma, which showed a shift in the brain caused by bleeding and pressure, along with swelling and a fracture to the skull. The physician said it would take a significant amount of force to cause the injury since the skull of a child that age is still soft.
Emma later died that day from her injuries.
A Whitley County Sheriff’s deputy reported being the first responder on the scene and said he was met by Kincaid, who was holding Emma. Kincaid told the officer that she laid Emma down for a nap but noticed she was foaming at the mouth and that her body later went limp. The officer reported detecting a pulse on Emma but did not observe any breathing. EMS personnel then arrived to treat Emma. Kincaid did not report any fall or injury that occurred. EMS personnel reported that Kincaid told them the same sequence of events.
Officers then formally interviewed Kincaid on April 13, 2018. In the interview, Kincaid confirmed that Emma had arrived at her home at 7 a.m. and said she was smiling and playing. Emma was sleeping when she began to cough and choke. Kincaid said she picked up Emma, noticed she was heavy and limp, called 911 and started performing CPR. Kincaid said she did hit and shake Emma at that point to get a response.
A board-certified forensic pathologist conducted an autopsy on Emma and reported the cause of death as “blunt force traumatic injuries to the head” and ruled the death as a homicide. The pathologist said the child suffered optic nerve hemorrhages that are usually a result of continued force being exerted on the brain and that he was concerned about there not being a logical description of events provided by Kincaid.
The neurosurgeon who performed the craniectomy reported he saw massive swelling prior to conducting the craniectomy and a linear skull fracture. In his report, the neurosurgeon said he would observe “this type of catastrophic injury” in motor vehicle crashes.
According to court documents, on Aug. 10, 2018, a polygraph test was given to Kincaid by the Indiana State Police. During the interview, Kincaid repeated her story and added that earlier in that week, other children had knocked Emma down and caused “road rash” on her head. She also said children had been jumping off the couch and said she wasn’t sure if Emma had been injured.
During the polygraph examination, Kincaid was asked four questions:
- Did she cause injury to Emma?
- Did she cause injury to Emma while she was in her home?
- Did she know how Emma was injured?
- Did she know how Emma received her injury?
Kincaid answered “no” to all four questions. The results of the polygraph examination were “deception indicated.”
Kincaid later told ISP officers that when Emma went limp, she panicked and dropped her because she couldn’t hold onto her. Kincaid was later reinterviewed and changed her story again to say that earlier in the day, she and the children were playing on the patio. She said that she was holding Emma when other kids bumped her leg, causing her to lose her balance and drop the child onto the concrete patio.
Jury selection started this morning in Whitley County Circuit Court, with Judge Matthew Rentschler presiding. To adhere to social distancing guidelines, instead of all potential jurors sitting in the courtroom at the same time, people were brought in 14 at a time.
A full jury for the case was selected at 2 p.m. Five men and seven women are on the jury, with one man and one woman as alternates.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the trial is being live streamed online, with only the judge, jury, attorneys and Kincaid present in the courtroom.
In his opening statement to the court, Sigler focused on the extent of Emma’s injuries, referring to the incident and investigation as a five-act tragedy.
“She had her skull bashed against a hard, flat surface,” said Sigler. “And on April 12, 2018, that might have been at the beginning of this case, but it was the end of Emma.”
Sigler then reflected on Kincaid’s words in a video confession from May 29, 2019.
“‘Her eyes were just gray and I laid her down as hard as I could’… those are the defendant’s words,” said Sigler. “For 412 days, the defendant lied, obfuscated and she stayed as far away from the truth as you can get. The parents had to live with that, with not knowing what happened to their baby girl. This was a violent act perpetrated against a child. I have not charged her with murder. I have charged her with battering Emma to death.”
Zach Baber then gave an opening statement for the defense, focusing on Kincaid’s love for Emma and how she enjoyed babysitting. On the day of the incident, Kincaid was babysitting six children.
“She willingly consented to an interview with a detective and for her home to be searched,” said Zach, also focusing on Kincaid’s cooperation with officers. “She loved Emma.”
Emma’s parents, Sherry and Nick Leeman, were then called to the stand for testimony. However, at approximately 4 p.m., the state of Indiana’s server for remote video hearings crashed, which affected all live broadcasts throughout the state.
The trial will continue at 8 a.m. Tuesday, July 28, in Whitley County.