- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A sailor’s court-martial following his infant daughter’s death more than two years ago began Monday with his lawyer and a prosecutor arguing over the timeliness of a doctor’s changed opinion about the child’s head injuries.
Brian Hart, now 23, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if he is convicted of murdering the baby, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rachel Trest, the lead prosecutor, told prospective members of the jury that morning. Before they entered the courtroom at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., the trial’s judge said he would give Hart’s lawyer time to get witnesses to rebut the doctor’s revised opinion on the injuries suffered in August 2010 by 4-month-old Brooke Leigh Hart.
A Navy spokesman confirmed Tuesday that the defendant’s wife, Jessica Hart, has reached a pretrial agreement with the prosecution that is contingent upon her cooperation in the case against her husband.
Brian Hart 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. 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.
Detectives alleged in 2010 that Brooke Hart suffered head injuries and fractured ribs during multiple incidents before she died. She was born prematurely in late March of that year, 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, a master-at-arms seaman, 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.
On Monday, U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Charles Hale, the military judge presiding at Brian Hart’s court martial, noted that “the landscape of the case has taken a couple of twists.”
Robert Bonsib, Hart’s lawyer, said he learned only last weekend of the prosecution’s assertion that a radiologist from MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, who initially reported finding no fractures in a scan of the child’s head, has changed her mind.
“Where [the doctor] is coming in with this [now] is a mystery to me,” Bonsib said. “It’s just not fair.”
Trest, the prosecutor, said of the doctor’s changed opinion, “She said, ‘I made a mistake,’ and she’s prepared to explain how she made that mistake. The government has not hid anything from the defense.”
The court-martial is expected to continue into next week.