By Liz Shepherd
COLUMBIA CITY — Defense began calling witnesses and the state rested in the fourth day of trial for Courtney Kincaid, who is accused of severely injuring a Pierceton infant who later died from her injuries.
Kincaid, 30, Columbia City, is charged with aggravated battery, neglect of a dependent resulting in death and battery with death to a person under 14 years old. The charges stem from the death of 11-month-old Emma Grace Leeman, who died on April 13, 2018. Kincaid was Emma’s babysitter.
Andrea Blankenship and Bradly Kincaid, Courtney Kincaid’s mother and husband, were both called by the state to provide testimony on Thursday, July 30.
In court proceedings, Blankenship said she had been at the Kincaid residence on April 10 and 11, 2018. While helping care for Emma, Blankenship said she noticed Emma arching her back and throwing her head backward. Blankenship mentioned this behavior to Kincaid and told her to bring it to Sherry Leeman’s attention.
Blankenship said Kincaid told her she was making breakfast when she noticed foam on Emma’s mouth while she was laying down. Kincaid also did not tell Blankenship she was taking a polygraph test and that she only found out about the test when Kincaid was arrested.
During cross-examination by Defense Attorney Zach Baber, Blankenship said she suggested to Sherry that she should take Emma to a doctor due to the back arching; however, Sherry said she would be fine.
“Courtney has always been a very reserved individual,” said Blankenship when asked why she was not initially told about the polygraph test. “She’s always just been very quiet and she wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s always one that gets so concerned or worried about somebody else that she wouldn’t take care of herself medically.”
Blankenship described Kincaid and Emma’s relationship as loving.
“She had the prettiest blue eyes and she smiled with her whole face,” said Blankenship about Emma. “She reminded me of me when I was little.”
In proceedings, several witnesses also discussed Kincaid being prone to vasovagal syncope episodes. A vasovagal attack occurs when someone faints due to the body overreacting to specific triggers, such as the sight of blood or extreme emotional distress. It was noted that Kincaid did not have any episodes between September 2017 and August 2018, but that her syncope flared up more while she was pregnant.
Juror questions for Blankenship included if Kincaid ever told her about laying Emma down hard, as well as how Kincaid typically punished the children she was babysitting. Blankenship said Kincaid never told her about laying Emma down hard and that Kincaid would put children in timeout if they were misbehaving.
In his testimony, Bradly said he typically was not at home when the kids arrived at their residence because of work. He knew Nick Leeman through work, which is how Kincaid ended up babysitting Emma.
Through cross-examination, Bradly said Kincaid told him that Emma was asleep on the floor when she noticed Emma foaming at the mouth. He also said that Kincaid has never told him about laying Emma down on the ground hard.
Chelsea Vance, a Department of Child Services family case manager, also testified. Vance was called to Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne, where Emma was taken for treatment following the incident.
However, the jury was briefly excused in the midst of Vance’s testimony due to discussions in open court about Kincaid allegedly having prior DCS involvement. The defense called for a mistrial because of this information being given while in the presence of the jury.
“We have a smart and savvy jury, but they’ve already focused in on whether Courtney had prior DCS involvement,” said Baber.
Whitley Circuit Court Judge Matthew Rentschler moved to proceed as planned with today’s proceedings but said he would study court notes and audio to determine if a mistrial will be granted in favor of the defense. The decision will be made in the morning on July 31.
After the jury was called back in, Vance discussed an interview she had with Kincaid in June 2019, where she mentioned the police summary of the incident to Kincaid.
“She immediately began shaking and had tears in her eyes,” said Vance.
In the interview, Kincaid told Vance that she frequently had flashbacks and nightmares related to the incident. When asked what the flashbacks and nightmares were about, Kincaid said “the truth.”
Dr. Darin Wolfe, a board-certified forensic pathologist who conducted an autopsy on Emma, also testified in court via Zoom. Three autopsy photos of Emma’s body were submitted as evidence. Wolfe discussed the extent of Emma’s injuries, stating that she sustained blunt force traumatic injuries to her head and had retinal hemorrhages in both eyes. In his testimony, Wolfe said the retinal and optic nerve hemorrhages were the result of continued force being exerted onto Emma’s brain.
Wolfe ruled Emma’s manner of death as homicide.
“I don’t know how you could just lay someone down and that results in a skull fracture,” said Wolfe.
The state also concluded testimony with Indiana State Police Detective Michael Collins. In testimony, Collins talked about the polygraph test he gave Kincaid and elaborated on what the test consisted of. Collins described his interaction with Kincaid as cordial and professional while giving her a polygraph test in August 2018. At the start of the interview, Kincaid said she knew nothing about what happened to Emma. In the middle of the interview, Kincaid said she dropped Emma on a carpeted surface. Kincaid’s final story during the polygraph exam was dropping Emma from shoulder height onto a concrete surface.
Baber asked Collins about the possibility of there being false indications through a polygraph test. Collins said it’s possible for there to be false positives and negatives. Prior to her polygraph test, Kincaid told Collins she only got 4 1/2 hours of sleep the night before.
The state rested its case just before 3 p.m.
Defense called three witnesses for testimony in the afternoon hours, all of which had their kids at one point in time babysat by Kincaid. One of the witnesses was Miranda Gaff, a friend of Kincaid’s who used to have her babysit her three children.
“Courtney actually helped me a lot,” said Gaff. “Having someone I trusted was everything to me.”
Gaff recalled an incident where a child fell on one of her children during recess at school and that she was not notified of the incident until Kincaid made her aware of it. It was later determined that Gaff’s child had sustained a concussion while at school.
All three witnesses said they never had any issues with Kincaid babysitting their children.
Trial proceedings will continue at 8:30 a.m. Friday, July 31, with the defense continuing to call witnesses for testimony.