Thursday, October 14, 2004

Witness: Mom not hysterical, though fire trapped her infant

By Janice Morse
Enquirer staff writer

HAMILTON - As a fire killed a 7-month-old boy in his crib - behind a blocked door - his mother shed few tears and showed little concern for her son, witnesses testified Wednesday.

"I didn't have to do much to calm her down. She wasn't hysterical at any point," Jennifer Ward, an emergency medical technician, told a Butler County jury as the trial of Aimee Leonard began in Common Pleas Court.

Leonard, 29, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangering in the death of her son, Justin Johnson Jr.

The baby died in a trailer fire Feb. 4 in Madison Township, near Middletown. Leonard admitted setting the fire after arguing with the boy's father on the phone about visitation, authorities said. Leonard escaped unharmed. A county child-protection worker later was fired for failing to investigate concerns about Leonard's parenting.

As the fire raged, Leonard repeatedly lamented losing her possessions and her friend's trailer, but only twice asked about the baby, Ward testified.

Another witness, Eric Gadd, said he and other firefighters crawled along the burning trailer's floor, searching for the baby.

"They told us to find the baby and not fight the fire," he said.

A special camera helped them navigate through blinding smoke. They felt an object blocking the baby's bedroom door. They later learned it was a chair, Gadd said.

They got the door open and Gadd saw the crib: "I reached my hand inside the crib and I felt the baby."

Justin's belly and face were burned. Gadd couldn't tell if he was breathing. Gadd handed the baby out a window to the fire chief and left.

"I never had to deal with something like that before," Gadd said, clearing his throat and biting his lip.

Leonard's lawyer, Ron Morgan, offered no opening statement in the trial.


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