The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy of 3-year-old Tiana Capps, whom the state alleges was abused then killed by her caretaker near Maricopa, testified in court Thursday.
Jennifer Chen with the Pima County Office of Medical Examiner said her examination on Nov. 20, 2015, revealed the child suffered at least 12 “impacts sites” to her face and head caused from a blunt force object.
The trauma caused abrasions, contusions, two hemorrhages on the brain and eventually death. Chen listed the toddler’s death as a homicide.
Chen’s autopsy report also found Tiana was “undernourished,” weighed 24 pounds at the time of her death, and had poor dental health and a severe diaper rash.
Prosecutors say Shawn Main is responsible. She’s facing a first-degree murder charge and the death penalty along with multiple counts of child abuse. Thursday’s testimony was part of a Chronis hearing, required in Arizona to establish probable cause in death-penalty cases.
Main allegedly told police in 2015 she was Tiana’s sole caretaker at a home they shared with two other women and Tiana’s three siblings in an unincorporated area of Maricopa. One of the other women was the children’s biological mother, Tina Morse.
The state claims aggravating factors in the case include the girl’s young age and the “especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner” of the crime.
Main’s defense counsel asked Chen whether Tiana could have been asleep or unconscious during the impacts, and if it was possible the toddler could have felt no pain if the latter were true.
Chen said pain levels are subjective, but the child would have had to suffer at least one impact before losing consciousness.
“Generally, head trauma causes pain,” Chen said.
During questioning from both sides, Chen testified she could not determine whether the trauma was caused by a blunt object striking the child’s head or if her head repeatedly hit a blunt object.
Main allegedly made statements to police explaining Tiana had been “falling a lot” before her death and had become “defiant and oppositional,” prosecutor Shawn Jensvold said in court.
“(The child’s) injuries were not consistent with a simple fall,” Chen said.
The defense pointed out during questioning that the autopsy report did not list any defensive wounds on the child’s hands and forearms.
In response to prosecution, Chen said Tiana would “likely not” be able to defend herself against an adult because of her age and that an undernourished body causes “a person to feel weaker, tired, with less energy.”
Chen’s testimony also included questions from prosecution about a note allegedly authored by Main after the autopsy report.
In it, Jensvold said Main allegedly “exonerated the other two adults that were in the house.”
Testimony from the detective on the case is expected to reveal more about the note and other details when the hearing continues March 2 at 8:30 a.m. at the Pinal County Superior Court.