OGDEN -- A judge has ruled the sister of the victim can testify to her eyewitness account of the alleged murder of her sibling.
Trial of Robert Abbott was also rescheduled this week from November to January in 2nd District Court to accommodate the schedule of the defense's expert medical witness.
Abbott, 32, is charged in the Sept. 9, 2011, death of 2-year-old stepdaughter Hailey Byrne at their home in Roy.
Police were called to the residence in the 1900 block of 4700 South that morning when the girl's mother called authorities to say that Hailey was unresponsive. Emergency medical responders found the girl dead from apparent suffocation.
Her sister Rachel, 6 years old at the time, told police that the night before she saw Abbott spank Byrne for playing when she was supposed to be in bed, then hold her face to a pillow so her crying wouldn't wake a younger sibling, according to police.
The defense filed a motion to ban the showing at trial of the video interview of the 6-year-old, now 71/2, as well as keep her off the witness stand, arguing child testimony is unreliable.
But 2nd District Judge Ernie Jones in a four-page decision last week denied the motion, noting the youngster's statements are matched by the defendant's own admissions to police.
"This corroboration is important to the court's finding that Rachel's interview is sufficiently reliable and trustworthy," the judge writes.
Abbott's statement was also challenged unsuccessfully by the defense, calling it inadmissible because Abbott was given his Miranda warnings about his rights to an attorney in writing instead of verbally. Jones denied that suppresson motion Feb. 26.
Abbott, in his statement, wrote that even though Hailey was alive when he last saw her, "I feel like I contributed to her death. I feel guilty. I want to give my life so she can come back." Then in larger letters, "Why? Why?"
The defendant in his statement to Roy Police Sgt. Dan Hammon even demonstrated what he did in a re-enactment with a doll.
"By the time this matter gets to trial, over a year and a half will have elapsed since the 6-year-old child observed something on Sept. 9, 2011," reads the motion to block the sister's testimony, filed by defense counsel Randy Richards. "The intervening contamination of that developing brain renders any hope of reliability virtually impossible."
After his Sept. 9, 2011, arrest, Abbott's bail had initially been set at $200,000. But four months later, after a wave of supportive letters from Abbott's family and friends, the defense asked for reduced bail. The request came in the wake of five suicide attempts by Abbott while in Weber County Jail, which were discussed in open court. Bail was reduced to $20,000, and he was released.