Judge declares mistrial in child abuse case due to COVID-19

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A district court jury trial was postponed Wednesday due to a likely positive COVID-19 test.

A temperature-taker in Wayne County, who was assigned to take the jury's temperatures and ask any illness-related questions, informed the district court office of symptoms Wednesday morning.

Judge John E. Samson spoke to the jury during the trial.

"As I recall, (the COVID-19 patient) was wearing a mask at all times, and called our clerk this morning and said she woke up and didn't have a sense of taste or smell this morning," he said. "Everybody was instructed to wear masks the whole time."

One juror told the court the temperature-taker was not wearing a mask at the time her temperature was taken.

"That's news to me," Samson said. "I was told this morning she wore masks at all times. With that said, I needed to tell you folks that went on. She hasn't had a test but I'm assuming she has it."

Samson spoke with each juror individually to gauge their thoughts on whether to continue or not.

"We did everything in our power to make this as safe as possible for everybody," Samson said. "I thought we could do it safely."

Though the members of the jury did inform Samson they would be willing to continue, Samson ultimately declared a mistrial.

"You were all being very honest and straightforward; however, I cannot in good conscience proceed with this trial knowing that I may have placed you at risk," Samson said. "Again, every one of you indicated you'd be willing to sit and serve and be fair and impartial."

Samson, through tears, said he would not want any jurors to potentially spread the virus if they contracted it.

"Do I think we could have a fair trial with you folks? Absolutely. But I don't want to put you at risk," he said. "I will declare a mistrial, and we will consider other trials we have. I'm going to cancel the one next week, and again, I do appreciate you folks."

The juror's box had several plexiglass panels surrounding the seats, with the jurors seated 6 feet apart. Several members of the jury were spread out around the courtroom to further encourage social distancing.

According to a District Court journal entry, the jurors were sworn in Jan. 25, and due to the weather conditions, the trial was adjourned at 11:30 a.m.

The following day, the trial was continued to noon, and the State and defense counsel both gave their opening statements.
The first witness was called at 12:40 p.m., and additional witnesses were called thereafter until the trial adjourned at 4 p.m.

Davante Van Loon, 26, pleaded not guilty to four counts of committing child abuse intentionally with injury, a Class 2 felony; and two counts of committing child abuse intentionally with no injury, a Class 3A felony.

According to an arrest affidavit, the Blair Police Department were called to Memorial Community Hospital and Health System on a report of a 7-month-old infant with a broken arm in March 2019.

The infant was being watched by Morgan Lee at her home day care. Lee did not have a license to operate the daycare.

While leaving the home, the mother reported Van Loon, who was not a provider at the home daycare, spoke to her and said he hoped the baby was alright.

Examinations revealed the baby had a broken arm and other injuries that were signs of child abuse over a period no more than a month.

Lee was interviewed and told BPD that Van Loon would take care of the child while Lee attended to the other children. She also noted Van Loon had a history of lying.

Van Loon told police different reasons the child may have received the injuries, including he had wrapped the baby too tightly in a blanket, and he had seen the baby fall.

Further examinations concluded the injuries were not accidental.

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