An Essex County petit jury began its deliberations today in the trial of Travis Hartsfield (pictured left), a 25-year old Newark man accused of murdering his 20-month old daughter, Asiyah.
During closing arguments, the State displayed images of the baby lying on the autopsy table with knuckle bruises on her tiny chest. The pictures were difficult for some members of the jury to look at. Several members shook their heads, several others shifted uncomfortably in their seats, and one wept a tear from his eye. Hartsfield simply stared at the floor.
Hartsfield stands accused of Murder in the First Degree for punching his 20-month old daughter twice in the chest because she apparently didn’t want to eat. According to the medical examiner, Hartsfield punched his daughter so hard that he severed her liver, which caused her death.
Hartsfield had told detectives that he brought his daughter to his Newark apartment on March 14, 2011 to watch her while her mother was at work. He claimed that she slept for most of the day while he played video games. But when he tried to feed her that afternoon, she refused to eat, at which point Hartsfield punched her – “one-two” – in the chest. The blows caused Asiyah to vomit. When she began crying, Hartsfield sent her back to bed. Later that night, he went to change her diaper and discovered her dead.
Hartsfield’s attorney claims that he didn’t know that punching Asiyah would cause her death, contending instead that he made a “horrible choice” during a “moment of blind anger and frustration.” The State maintains that he did know, and just didn’t care.
Whether Hartsfield acted in manner that showed conscious disregard for Asiyah’s life (evidencing a purpose to kill), is now up to the jury, who can also return a guilty verdict for the lesser-included offense of Manslaughter. If found guilty of either offense, Hartsfield faces a very lengthy term in New Jersey State Prison, a large portion of which he would have to serve without the benefit of parole.
For more information, see the Star-Ledger article entitled, “Jury to decide if father who punched baby is criminally responsible for her death.”