Jury returns not guilty verdicts in Bracci trial

Published: Mar. 20, 2015 at 2:02 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 20, 2015 at 8:01 PM EDT
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A screen grab of Rowan Bracci from one of several videos played during the trial. (Photo...
A screen grab of Rowan Bracci from one of several videos played during the trial. (Photo Source: WCSC)

ST. GEORGE, SC (WCSC) - After two-and-a-half hours of deliberations, a Dorchester County jury found a Ridgeville woman not guilty on two counts relating to the death of her 16-month-old son.

Amber Bracci, 23, was charged with homicide by child abuse and aiding and abetting child abuse in the 2011 death of Rowan Bracci.

Following the verdict from the jury of nine women and three men, one unidentified juror said, "I'm happy with my decision and everyone else's."

Bracci's lawyer said the verdict was the correct decision.

"Anybody who sat in that courtroom, actually heard the evidence could understand why that's really the only verdict they could reach," defense attorney John Loy said.

Loy says it was his decision to allow Bracci to testify in her own defense.

"She has to just get up there, be herself. The point of getting on the witness stand was speak to the jury, introduce herself to the jury so they would  know her, who she was, that was the point."

The Dorchester County Coroner's Office said at the time the baby died as a result of homicide after sustaining a closed head injury at the hands of another person or persons.

In his closing argument, Loy suggested it was Bracci's boyfriend John Weaver who was responsible for Rowan's death.

He said the baby was disrupting his video game with his crying and suggested Weaver hit Rowan in the head with a game controller.

"I hope Mr. Weaver has his day in court and I hope he has it soon," Loy said after the trial ended.

Loy says Bracci had something to say right after she was acquitted.

"She said thank you. She said before the verdict she's gonna buy me a drink, I'll go get that."

An emergency room doctor testified on Tuesday the boy had blood in his retinas which he said was evidence of physical abuse or trauma. Dr. Brock Helms said Rowan was unresponsive at the hospital and that doctors did everything they could do.

"On a coma scale rating, Rowan showed a three, essentially a dead person," Helms said. "Fifteen is healthy, walking, talking."

The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy said he died from a "non-accidental brain injury."Bracci faced 20 years to life in prison on the homicide by child abuse charge, and the charge of aiding and abetting homicide by child abuse carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years had she been convicted.

After the trial ended, Bracci left the courthouse without commenting on the verdicts.

Closing arguments wrapped up Thursday after Bracci herself took the stand.

She testified she thought her son was experiencing a bad dream when she heard him moaning in his crib. She said she first called her stepmother because she remembered a relative who had experienced a seizure and thought Rowan might be having one. Bracci said she held the boy until her stepmother arrived.

It was her stepmother, she said, who called 911. Bracci said doctors at MUSC told her Rowan had suffered a head injury.

She said she worshiped the ground little Rowan walked on, and 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."

In closing arguments, Bracci's attorney suggested Weaver hit the baby because he was crying while Weaver was trying to play video games.

"Somebody disrupted his Madden Football somebody fumbled the ball and he lost his temper, went in his bedroom and hit the boy," Bracci's attorney, John Loy said.

Loy said bruises on the baby's face may match raised buttons on Weaver's XBox game controller.

Weaver is also charged with homicide by child abuse and aiding and abetting child abuse in Rowan's death, but he and Bracci are being tried separately.

The prosecutor says Bracci ignored her baby's moaning and groaning.

"'Thought he was having a bad dream so I walked away,'" Deputy Solicitor Don Sorenson said, repeating Bracci's claims from her testimony. "We now know he wasn't having a bad dream, he was dying."

Sorenson also accused Bracci of lying to authorities about smoking marijuana.

Weaver is also charged with homicide by child abuse and aiding and abetting child abuse in Rowan's death.

On Tuesday, Bracci's stepmother, Christina, testified Amber and Weaver had been dating for about three months at the time of Rowan's death. She said Weaver had been talking about moving in, but said that when she returned to Amber's home after Rowan was hospitalized, all of Weaver's belongings were gone.

On Wednesday, Dorchester County Sheriff's Det. Rick Carson, who interviewed Bracci after her arrest, testified Bracci told him she believed Weaver was responsible for Rowan's death.

"She repeats, she thinks John did it between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.," Carson said."And I pressed her for an explanation. By that time she simply replied,'That's the time it happened.'"

Audio was also played for jurors which Carson said was a phone call in which Bracci said, "He knows in his heart what happened that night and I think I can look him in the eye and maybe he will confess and maybe he will break down."

He and Bracci are being tried separately, but his trial date has not yet been set.

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