DAYTON, Ohio – Prosecutors and defense attorneys quizzed potential jurors Monday in the trial of a woman accused of killing her month-old daughter by burning her in a microwave oven, asking them if they had heard about the case and how they felt about the death penalty.
Defendant China Arnold, 27, sat impassively at the defense table as jurors were questioned one by one in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court. She wore gray slacks and a white turtleneck sweater and her hair was neatly braided.
Each of the half dozen potential jurors questioned before noon said they had heard something about the case, either through news accounts or in talking with friends. But they said they could be impartial.
"The charge was somewhat shocking, but I haven't formed any opinion," one potential juror said.
Arnold has pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder. If convicted, she could face the death penalty.
Most of the jurors questioned said they could recommend the death penalty under certain circumstances.
Visiting Judge John Kessler excused about 10 potential jurors, who said personal reasons would prevent them from being part of a trial that could take up to three weeks. Jury selection is expected to take at least two days.
Investigators believe Arnold killed her daughter, Paris Talley, by putting her in a microwave at her Dayton home in August 2005.
Coroner's officials say the baby suffered high-heat internal injuries and had no external burns. They have ruled out scalding water, open flame or other possible causes of death that could have damaged the skin.
Defense attorney Jon Paul Rion has said Arnold had nothing to do with her daughter's death and was stunned when investigators told her that a microwave might have been involved. Arnold took the baby to the hospital after finding her unconscious and does not know how she died, Rion said.
During a pretrial hearing in July, Dayton police Detective Michael Galbraith said Arnold told him she arrived home in the early morning hours after drinking, fell asleep and was awakened at 2:30 a.m. by the baby's crying.
She said she warmed a bottle in the microwave oven, tried to give it to the baby, changed the child's diaper and fell asleep on the couch with the baby on her chest.
Arnold said she and her children were the only ones in the apartment until her boyfriend arrived several hours later and noticed something was wrong with the baby.
Galbraith said Arnold told him: "If I hadn't gotten so drunk, I guess my baby wouldn't have died."
But when cross-examined by Rion, Galbraith acknowledged that Arnold told him she didn't know how the baby suffered the burns and that she had nothing to do with it that she could recall.
Earlier this month, defense witness Robert Belloto, a staff pharmacist at Good Samaritan Hospital, testified that he doesn't believe it would have been possible for Arnold to place the baby in the microwave because the woman was so intoxicated.
Belloto said Arnold told him she had consumed about 40 percent of a pint of high-proof rum in 90 minutes. But he acknowledged that he had no other corroboration for her claim.