Jury reaches verdict Tuesday in Roy day care child abuse homicide trial

Tuesday , May 16, 2017 - 2:12 PM

Nadia Pflaum, Standard-Examiner staff

OGDEN — After four and a half hours of deliberation Tuesday, a jury found a Roy home day care provider guilty of child abuse homicide.

Tisha Morley, 36, was charged with child abuse homicide, a first-degree felony, after 8-month-old Lincoln Penland died from injuries he suffered at her Roy home day care in February 2014. 

RELATED: Jury to begin deliberating Tuesday in Roy day care homicide trial

The jury had to determine if Morley deliberately shook the 8-month-old and slammed his head on a changing table out of frustration, causing blunt force trauma that led to his death after a week in the hospital.

After the verdict was read, sniffling sounds filled the courtroom and Morley put an arm around attorney Logan Bushell. Morley could face life in prison.

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The 11-day trial was often a battle of experts. A forensic pathologist called by Morley’s defense testified that a fracture to the baby’s skull could easily have been caused by another child at the day care during a 15-minute period in which Morley admitted she left the baby on the floor unattended.

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Several of the state’s medical experts and a biochemical engineer said that the fracture to Lincoln’s skull was the kind of injury more often seen in car accidents or falls from several stories high. 

Prosecutors said a 4-year-old girl who also attended the day care — the only witness to what happened to baby Lincoln — was just “imaginative” when she told investigators she saw a 3-year-old boy kick, stand on and slam the baby’s head with a door.

RELATED: Defense expert in Roy day care homicide trial refutes state's cause of death

RELATED: Doctor testifies about baby's skull fracture in trial for Roy day care provider

Defense attorney Bushell told the jury to imagine if the opposite were true and the 4-year-old girl claimed to witness Morley hurting the baby.

“If what she said was about Tisha, you’d be hearing from the state that she’s the smartest, most honest little girl today,” Bushell said. 

Families of both Morley and the Penlands came to court every day of trial. The Penlands’ supporters wore neon green wristbands that read, “Lincoln.” Members of a Wasatch chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse attended the reading of the verdict. 

After the verdict was read, half the courtroom was in tears — some in relief that the Penlands’ wait for justice was over, and some in dismay as Morley was handcuffed and led from the courtroom into custody. 

Alesha and Christopher Penland made a statement thanking their many supporters, and hugged members of Morley’s family, including her husband Ryan. Christopher Penland explained, outside the courtroom, that they recognized, “(the Morleys) are losing someone, too.” 

Christopher Penland said that with the trial over, he was glad to bring attention back to where he thought it belonged: on baby Lincoln. 

“There are no winners in this case,” Bushell said in a statement Tuesday. “Regardless of the outcome, it is an utter tragedy for all involved. While we fully respect the jury and their difficult decision, we disagree with their verdict. We remain resolute in Mrs. Morley’s innocence.”

Prior to the verdict, 2nd District Judge Scott Hadley thanked the jury.

“I’ve never asked more of a jury than this one,” he said. 

Morley will be sentenced at 3 p.m. June 20. She faces a possible sentence of life in prison. 

Contact reporter Nadia Pflaum at npflaum@standard.net or follow her on Twitter at @NadiaPflaum

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