Irwin Co. baby-killer's conviction upheld

Irwin Co. baby-killer's conviction upheld

ATLANTA, GA (WALB) - The Georgia Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the murder and cruelty to children convictions Hodari Churchill received in Irwin County for killing his girlfriend's 3-month-old baby girl, in 2001.

He is serving a life sentence at Rogers State Prison.

Churchill appealed his convictions and life prison sentence for fracturing the baby's skull by slamming her head "into something hard," arguing the evidence was insufficient to convict him and the judge erred by allowing in photographs of earlier injuries to the baby.

But the high court disagrees, finding no errors and ruling in an opinion written by Justice Harold Melton that the "evidence was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to find Churchill guilty of felony murder beyond a reasonable doubt."

Churchill, who lived with the baby's mother, Jada, and Tausha's 7-year-old daughter, had been caring for the baby when he interrupted Tausha's shower and told her Jada had stopped breathing. Tausha ran into the living room where she found the infant limp and not breathing. After asking Churchill to do something to make her breathe, he began to perform CPR and the baby resumed breathing.

The morning of Dec. 23, 2001, Tausha left Jada alone at home with Churchill while she went to church with her sister and brother-in-law. When she left, the baby was "fine" and "smiling." Sometime before noon, another of Tausha's sisters called the home and while speaking to Churchill, heard Jada in the background making a "high-pitched screaming cry" she had never heard the baby make.

An hour or two later, Tausha's mother visited her daughter's home. Churchill answered the door and handed her the baby, who was not breathing. He told her he had left the baby on the couch while he was fixing her a bottle and that when he returned, she was not breathing. The two then drove Jada to Irwin County Hospital. When they arrived, Jada had no pulse, and a nurse later testified that upon examination, she found the baby had a "bulging area" on the "soft spot" of her head. But hospital personnel succeeded in resuscitating Jada at the hospital, and they prepared to fly her with a pediatric resuscitation team to a hospital in Augusta. During the transfer, the baby's heart stopped and she never regained consciousness. 

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner who performed the autopsy found a number of head and neck injuries, including bruising, hemorrhaging, whiplash and a linear skull fracture. He concluded the injuries resulted from blunt head trauma caused by "being slammed into something hard." 

In February 2003, the jury found Churchill guilty of murder and cruelty to children and he was sentenced to life in prison. After his request for a new trial was denied, he appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing in part that the trial court erred by admitting "unduly prejudicial" autopsy photos of Jada's broken ribs to show alleged prior abuse of the baby by Churchill. 

Attorney for Appellant (Churchill): James Walker

Attorneys for Appellee (State): C. Paul Bowden, District Attorney, Samuel Olens, Attorney General, Beth Burton, Dep. A.G., Paula Smith, Sr. Asst. A.G., Aimee Sobhani, Asst. A.G.

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