March 10, 2010

Sitter acquitted in 'heartbreaking' death

TREVOR MAXWELL

— By

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Moments after the jury acquitted her of manslaughter Thursday, a tearful Shawna Poulin reached over and hugged her lawyer, Joel Vincent.

Then the 27-year-old mother of four walked out of the courtroom with her family.

''It's a big relief to have the jury hear the evidence and bring back the verdict that we thought was appropriate,'' Vincent said after the three-day trial in Cumberland County Superior Court. ''Obviously, there has been a great deal of anxiety and stress for her.

''But this is a heartbreaking incident for everybody, regardless of the verdict,'' he said.

Poulin was accused of causing the death of 2-month-old Kobin Freeman when she baby-sat him overnight on Nov. 24, 2006. During his cross-examinations of witnesses and his closing argument, Vincent suggested that Kobin's mother, Aryne Freeman, might have been responsible for her son's death. Poulin declined to testify at the trial.

''There is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt,'' Vincent told the jury. ''They are asking you to guess, and in criminal cases you cannot guess.''

Jurors deliberated for less than an hour before returning the not-guilty verdict.

''I'm not going to speculate on the jury's decision,'' said the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea. ''We presented the evidence. They obviously considered all the evidence and reached the verdict they thought was appropriate.''

Zainea declined to say whether she was hampered by the fact that there was only circumstantial evidence against Poulin. There were no witnesses or other direct evidence that tied Poulin to the baby's death.

''With baby deaths, it's rare that you have an eyewitness to the incident,'' other than the perpetrator, Zainea said.

Aryne Freeman, 22, of South Portland testified that Poulin had watched her son overnight twice before they made arrangements on Nov. 24, 2006. The plan was for Poulin to take Kobin overnight while Freeman, her husband, Rick, and a few friends gathered for a housewarming party at their new apartment on Red Oak Drive.

Poulin already had three children and was pregnant with her fourth. She agreed to watch Kobin for free, Freeman testified. Poulin brought Kobin home just after noon on Nov. 25, Freeman said. She testified that the boy was unusually pale and appeared lifeless except for a flutter of his eyelids.

Freeman called 911 at 12:11 p.m. Paramedics were not able to revive the child.

Dr. Marguerite DeWitt, the deputy state medical examiner who did the autopsy, said Kobin died of acute traumatic brain injury, which had been inflicted by a significant but unknown force. There were no external injuries that might have suggested a cause.

''The trauma inflicted was so significant that it caused generalized or all-over-the-brain hemorrhaging,'' Zainea said during her closing argument.

Maine State Police detectives investigated the case for more than 18 months before the Attorney General's Office decided to seek an indictment. Poulin was charged by a grand jury in July 2008.

The core of the state's case was that Poulin must have caused the injury to Kobin's head, because she was taking care of him and the boy was on the verge of death when she brought Kobin home.

''We're left with only one person who could have done this to Kobin, and that person is Shawna Poulin,'' Zainea said. ''Shawna was with that baby until she returned him to his mother.''

Vincent repeatedly challenged the state's theory.

''Really, the central issue in the case was, what time did Kobin Freeman return to his mother?'' Vincent said.

He argued that Poulin actually dropped Kobin off at 11 a.m., one hour earlier than the time alleged by the state.

Vincent cited Freeman's cell phone records, which indicated that she had been sending and receiving text messages since 6:45 that morning, but stopped after 11 a.m. Freeman testified that she continued to send messages until noon but for some reason the messages from 11 a.m. to noon were not represented in her phone records.

During his closing argument, Vincent characterized Freeman as a young, first-time mother who was overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for an infant. Vincent suggested that Freeman lied about the timing of Kobin's return home in an attempt to blame Poulin.

Vincent said that if Kobin had been injured between 11 a.m. and noon, that would have been consistent with DeWitt's estimate that the injury likely occurred 30 minutes to two hours before his death.

Zainea said Freeman was not a criminal and did not have the time or skills to fool investigators, as Vincent suggested.

''The state is not suggesting that she is mother of the year, but she did not do this to her son,'' Zainea said during her closing argument. ''She didn't have the time. She got her son back at noontime and at 12:11 she is calling 911.''

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

tmaxwell@pressherald.com

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