- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A Navy couple whose infant girl died two years ago face court-martial proceedings this summer on charges that include negligent homicide.
Brian Hart, now 23, earlier was arrested by St. Mary’s detectives and indicted by the county’s grand jurors for second-degree murder in the baby’s death. The charge was later dropped.
A Navy spokesperson reported Friday that both the child’s father and her mother, Jessica Hart, have been arraigned on new military charges.
St. Mary’s prosecutors said last year in the county’s circuit court that they were dropping their case against Brian Hart because the Navy had requested that the matter be transferred to its authority, and Hart’s lawyer expressed hope afterward that no more charges would be filed once Navy officials completed their review of the matter.
Brian Hart and his wife, arraigned last month, now are both scheduled to appear for trial in August at the Washington Navy Yard.
“We’ll present our position in court,” defense lawyer Robert Bonsib said Monday.
Bonsib would not comment on whether the filing of the military charges against both parents amounts to an attempt by Navy prosecutors to turn the husband and wife against each other, but the lawyer said that the pair have never accused each other of any wrongdoing in the care of their 4-month-old daughter.
“Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Hart feel that either one of them did anything wrong here,” Bonsib said. “They both loved that child.”
Detectives alleged in August of 2010 that the couple’s baby girl suffered head injuries and fractured ribs during multiple incidents before she died that month.
Brooke Leigh Hart was born prematurely in late March 2010, the county investigators reported, and she remained at a Baltimore hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit for more than three months before she was released to her parents at their home in the Glenn Forest housing area of Patuxent River Naval Air Station. The child was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital in early August of that year, court papers state, and she was transferred to a Washington, D.C., hospital, where she died five days later.
An autopsy on the baby’s body found seven rib fractures on her left side, three rib fractures on her right side and head injuries including a subdural hematoma, according to a statement of probable cause filed in St. Mary’s District Court by Cpl. William Raddatz of the St. Mary's Bureau of Criminal Investigations. The detective wrote in charging papers that Brian Hart admitted picking the baby up “with great force” and shaking her to get her to go to sleep, and in a separate incident, again picking her up forcefully, allowing her head to snap back.
Brian Hart was released on a $5,000 cash bond in 2010 after Bonsib argued in court that the child's death was at worst “an accident out of an instant frustration.” Prosecutors dismissed an initial abuse charge filed in the case as they awaited an autopsy report, and four months after the murder indictment was issued early last year, that charge also was dropped.
Last summer, Cmdr. Michael Black, the commanding officer of Hart’s squadron in Oklahoma, which has a detachment at Pax River, wrote to county prosecutors that Brian Hart, a master-at-arms seaman, had been charged in the county court with offenses that could be handled through a court-martial, and that findings in a report by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service indicated “it is in the best interest of the Navy” for the matter to be transferred to its jurisdiction.
The commander’s letter made a specific reference to the charge of manslaughter, and stated that a violation of that offense under the uniform code of military justice carries a maximum punishment of a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement for 15 years. Black’s letter also stated that if jurisdiction in the case were not transferred to the Navy, Brian Hart could be “processed for administrative separation” and leave the Navy with no worse than an “other than honorable” discharge.
The Navy spokesperson reported Friday that Brian Hart now is charged with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, the negligent homicide offense, child endangerment, reckless endangerment and committing an act inherently dangerous to another. The spokesperson reported that Jessica Hart is charged with the negligent homicide offense, child endangerment and reckless endangerment.