ST. GEORGE, SC (WCSC) - Closing arguments wrapped up in the trial of a Dorchester County woman charged in the death of her 16-month-old son.
Amber Bracci, 23, is facing a charge of homicide by child abuse in the death of Rowan Bracci. She was 19 at the time of his death. Bracci testified for more than an hour before the defense rested its case.
Testimony on the third day of the trial began with Bracci's defense attorney, John Loy, telling the judge testimony is inconsistent with aiding and abetting a homicide by child abuse, a charge Bracci also faces. Loy said evidence showed Rowan was ill, not injured.
Loy asked the judge for a directed verdict of not guilty. Prosecutor Don Sorenson argued against the directed verdict. A "directed verdict" is an order from the judge to a jury to reach a specific verdict on a specific charge when the judge determines there is no way a jury could reasonably conclude otherwise during deliberations.
The key point was whether there is circumstantial evidence for the aiding and abetting charge, on which the two sides disagree.
The judge refused to dismiss that charge.
Loy then requested a dismissal of the homicide by child abuse charge, which the judge also refused.
The first witness was an employee of a pediatric doctor's office who testified records indicated no evidence of abuse or neglect and that Rowan was well nourished during his 15-month wellness visit.
Bracci's aunt then took the stand, telling the court Bracci was a good mother and loved Rowan. The friend said she admired Bracci and the mother she was becoming. She said she never saw Bracci smoke marijuana in front of Rowan.
A longtime friend of Bracci said she lived with Bracci for three months and never saw any abuse.
Bracci told the court Rowan was "everything" to her and said she worshiped the ground he walked on.
The Charleston native who grew up in Ridgeville said she became pregnant when she was 17 years old and moved to Florida to be near her own mother. She said she got a job after Rowan's birth and made numerous videos of both of them.
She became emotional on the stand talking about move into the trailer she lived in. The defense showed photos and videos of Rowan, including his first time on a swing, which Bracci identified as having been recorded shortly after she moved back to South Carolina.
Bracci said if she had known Rowan was in distress the day he went to the hospital, she would have gotten help for him. The lead investigator in the case testified Wednesday Bracci said she heard Rowan moaning that morning, but assumed he was having a bad dream.
Bracci also testified that her then-boyfriend, John Weaver, whom she met on July 4, 2010, was in the process of moving in with her.
Bracci described the night before she thought Rowan was having the bad dream, saying the evening was going well. She went to sleep and the next morning, she said she saw Weaver sleeping on the couch.
Bracci saw Rowan that morning and didn't appear to be in distress. She recalled sitting next to Weaver and hearing Rowan moan, saying he sounded "possessed," which she said she meant as a figure of speech.
She testified she called her stepmom before calling 911 because she remembers a relative who had seizure and thought Rowan might be having one. Bracci held Rowan until her stepmom arrived. Her stepmom was the one to call 911, Bracci testified.
Bracci told the court paramedics attending to Rowan said it may have been a fever that spiked overnight. But she said it was at MUSC that she learned Rowan had suffered a head injury.
She said she was in shock and denial, thinking she would leave the hospital with her son. She also said she put the blame on Weaver and said it to his face.
"I ran into the room and saw him in the chair and I remember I ran up to him and I put my hands around his shirt, around his neck and I said, 'You!' I cursed at him, I said, "You did this."
Bracci said she was honest with investigators when she spoke with them and did nothing to cover up the investigation, praying the truth would come out. She said she smoked marijuana and took Xanax because she "was lost" and wanted to numb the pain from losing her son.
Under cross examination, Bracci admitted Googling how to be a better mother, and said she told her stepmom she knew the Google search would come up in court.
The prosecution wanted to know why she waited two and a half hours to pick up her son from his crib the morning she thought he was having a bad dream. The prosecutor accused Bracci of lying to investigators when she didn't tell investigators she had smoked marijuana. The prosecutor said Weaver told police about the drug use three days before Bracci admitted smoking marijuana.
The prosecution also pointed out Bracci did not mention drug use during an interview with Live 5 News that was played in court on Wednesday. Bracci said someone coached her during the interview and told her she couldn't mention Weaver's name, said there was a lot more to that interview and said Live 5 News probably edited it.
Weaver is also charged with homicide by child abuse in Rowan's death, but he and Bracci are being tried separately.
The charge of homicide by child abuse carries a penalty of 20 years to life, and the charge of aiding and abetting homicide by child abuse carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years upon conviction.