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State rests case in hot-car-death trial; judge denies defense motion for directed verdict

By Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Arkansas Online staff

This article was originally published August 17, 2016 at 10:43 a.m. Updated August 17, 2016 at 6:42 p.m.

judge-wade-naramore-center-and-his-wife-ashley-naramore-are-escorted-around-the-garland-county-courthouse-after-a-pretrial-hearing-friday-june-3-2016-the-sentinel-recordrichard-rasmussen

Judge Wade Naramore, center, and his wife, Ashley Naramore, are escorted around the Garland County Courthouse after a pretrial hearing Friday, June 3, 2016. (The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen)

6:35 P.M. UPDATE:

HOT SPRINGS — Special Circuit Judge John Langston on Wednesday afternoon denied a defense motion for a directed verdict in the negligent homicide trial of Garland County Circuit Judge Wade Naramore, who is charged in the hot-car death of his toddler son last year.

After the prosecution rested its case, defense attorney Erin Cassenelli argued that the state had not met its burden of proof, adding that it was indisputable that Naramore cared for his son, Thomas.

“No reasonable juror could find that he committed a crime,” Cassenelli said, calling arguments from the state regarding car placement and the number of car doors open “red herrings.”

Prosecuting attorney Tom Young, meanwhile, argued that leaving Thomas in the car on July 24, 2015, posed a substantial risk for the child, who at the age of 17 months old was still completely dependent on his father.

He called Naramore’s actions a “gross deviation” from the standard of parental care.

After Langston’s ruling on the directed-verdict motion, Naramore’s wife, Ashley, sobbed, tightly holding one of Thomas’ stuffed animals. Soon after, Naramore walked over and embraced her.

A directed verdict is an order from the judge to the jury to return a particular verdict.

On Wednesday afternoon, the court also heard testimony from Dr. Stephen Erickson with the state Crime Laboratory, who addressed how forensic investigators moved from initially calling the cause of Thomas’ death “undetermined’ before classifying his death in February as environmental hypothermia or heat stroke.

His detailed explanations of what led to the toddler’s death — the hours it took for his body to unavoidably shut down and the discoloration after his death — drew emotional reactions from family members in the courtroom.

As the defense began presenting its case, jurors heard from Thomas’ pediatrician, Dr. David Slay. Slay testified that he had experienced a “near miss” on a day when he was on call and only noticed that one of his children, who was 2 years old at the time, was in the back seat when he went to pick up his lab coat.

The doctor said that while the experience did not scare him at the time, it made him think about how easy it might be to forget a child in a vehicle.

Court adjourned shortly after the conclusion of Slay’s testimony around 6 p.m. The fourth day of Naramore’s trial is set to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Brandon Riddle

3:05 P.M. UPDATE:

HOT SPRINGS — Testimony from Hot Springs Police Detective Mark Fallis concluded Wednesday afternoon, with the investigator answering questions on why he did not seek interviews from people the defense viewed as relevant in Judge Wade Naramore's case.

Among those believed to not be questioned were the pediatrician of Naramore's 17-month-old son, Thomas, day care workers and court employees. Fallis testified that his understanding was that an outside agency spoke with those not interviewed by Hot Springs police.

The defense also questioned Fallis about evidence from the scene and statements given by Naramore in his son's July 2015 hot-car death.

Fallis testified about his concerns over the placement of Thomas' shoes and a toy shovel found in Naramore's car, which he said called into question where the toddler had been placed.

He also spoke of his qualms regarding the way the car was parked in the middle of the road and that only the driver door was open when authorities arrived.

Check back with Arkansas Online for updates throughout Naramore’s trial and read Thursday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Brandon Riddle

1:37 P.M. UPDATE:

HOT SPRINGS — Garland County Circuit Judge Wade Naramore in a police interview shown to jurors Wednesday morning explained what he called unusual circumstances the day of his 17-month-old son’s hot-car death.

That interview, more than 20 minutes in length and conducted four months after Thomas Naramore’s death, detailed the judge’s plans to leave court early July 24, 2015, to prepare for a celebration of his wedding anniversary — including buying a spa package for his wife, Ashley, and cooking a steak dinner.

While the video was played in court, Naramore’s hands shook as he held a devotional book the judge said he read regularly to Thomas. Family members could also be heard sobbing in the courtroom.

Naramore told Hot Springs Police Department investigators in the video, including Mark Fallis, who was on the stand at the time it was shown, that his day began out of the ordinary.

He spoke of his concern about a potentially violent defendant set to appear in court that morning and said he had no recollection of who placed Thomas in the car that morning for drop off at daycare.

The judge left for work about 8:15 a.m. and stopped at McDonald’s along the way about five to 10 minutes later, he said. After finishing his responsibilities at work around 10:30 a.m., Naramore said, he then stayed to work on other tasks before leaving around noon. He was intent at that point on running errands related to he and his wife’s anniversary.

That afternoon, Naramore visited a local day spa, ate lunch, went to Kroger and bought wine at a liquor store before heading home, he said. While at home, he packed Thomas’ bathing suit for swimming at the country club across the street and later left his house intending to pick up his son.

While driving through a sharp curve shortly after 3 p.m., Naramore heard a noise coming from the back of his car, he said in the video. He then witnessed a foot dangling and realized that his son had been left in his car for more than five hours.

Before a lunch break, defense attorney Patrick Benca questioned Fallis on the seven months it took before Naramore was charged with negligent homicide. Benca also asked why certain family members and court employees with knowledge of the day were not interviewed by authorities.

Court was set to go back into session around 1:25 p.m.

Check back with Arkansas Online for updates throughout Naramore’s trial and read Thursday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Brandon Riddle

10:43 A.M. UPDATE

HOT SPRINGS — The third day of the trial for a Garland County circuit court judge charged in the hot-car death of his son began with defense attorney Patrick Benca requesting to bar deputy prosecutor Thomas Young from speaking to the media.

Wade Naramore faces a charge of negligent homicide in the July 2015 death of 17-month-old Thomas Naramore, who had been left in a hot car. The trial began Monday with jury selection and continued Tuesday with the first day of testimony.

In a hearing Wednesday morning before the jury was brought back for the day, Benca took issue with Young's comment to a newspaper reporter saying photos of Thomas' body "makes it real" for the jury.

Benca called the statement "inappropriate" and said that the photos were "designed to create emotion by the prosecution." He also asked that Young not be allowed to present any more photos to the jury.

Young said his statement to the media was not meant to be inappropriate.

"If [Benca] misconstrued my statement, I apologize," he said.

Special Circuit Judge John Langston denied Benca's requests to limit Young's statement to the media and to withhold photos from the jury.

"The record in this case is what is important," he said.

Testimony resumed later Wednesday with an officer from the Hot Springs Police Department testifying about Thomas' day care attendance records. She said those showed Wade Naramore dropped him off the majority of the time, but various family members picked him up at the end of the day.

Check back for updates and read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Jeannie Roberts

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pauljohnson says... August 17, 2016 at 8:10 p.m.

Everyone of us have to think of all the forgetfulness and the things we could have avoided our children's death or injury. I remember when my youngest daughter (4 years old) had seen her daddy siphon gas and she found a hose and tried it on the lawnmower. By the way this was in the 70's. I rushed her to the hospital and somehow after 3 days in an oxygen tent we went home. No one wants to hurt their child, but sometimes bad things happen. I do not think this father intended to kill his child and I pray this has nothing to do with politics.

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