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Toddler manslaughter trial begins at Linn County fairgrounds
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Toddler manslaughter trial begins at Linn County fairgrounds

The jury trial of a Lebanon woman accused of killing a 1-year-old in her care started in earnest on Tuesday afternoon at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center with opening statements from the prosecution.

Amber Marie Scott, 22, is charged with first-degree manslaughter for allegedly causing the death of Asher Carter.

“He was a healthy, normal kiddo,” prosecutor Ryan Lucke said of the boy, who celebrated his first birthday with family at Papa’s Pizza in Corvallis on Feb. 17, 2019.

Scott lived with the toddler’s parents in a duplex, and she regularly cared for the child. On the morning of Feb. 19, 2019, the parents left for the day, and Scott tried to get the crying boy back to sleep by pressing his face into her chest for five minutes, Lucke said. Scott used enough force to make her wrist hurt for hours, she said in a video shown to the jury.

“All because she wanted to go back to sleep,” Lucke said.

“He’s fighting her. He’s fighting to breathe, and finally he goes limp in her arms,” he added.

The boy was not breathing and had no pulse when paramedics arrived at the scene. Medical professionals revived his heartbeat but his brain activity never returned, and Asher was taken off life support at Oregon Health & Science University Hospital in Portland on Feb. 24, 2019, Lucke said.

Lucke said that Scott’s story changed during multiple interviews with investigators from the Lebanon Police Department. She was arrested on Feb. 27.

Defense attorney Kent Hickam said he would defer his opening statement until the prosecution had finished its portion of the case.

Hickam had filed a motion to continue the trial on Nov. 17 due to COVID-19 issues. Among other things, he said two witnesses from California wouldn’t be able to travel to the trial and that the wearing of masks impairs the ability of all jurors to evaluate the demeanor of witnesses. He also objected to the setup of Courtroom No. 1 in the Linn County Courthouse.

Judge Michael Wynhausen ruled against the motion on Nov. 19, saying that the trial could be held at the fairgrounds and proceed without significant risks to health, and that the state and victims in the case believe it is important that the trial not be postponed.

Jury selection for the trial began on Monday morning, and potential jurors were interviewed one at a time at Hickam’s request. The practice used to be the norm in Oregon for jury trials, Hickam wrote in a court filing.

Due to social distancing rules, jurors were seated at least 6 feet apart in the conference room at the fairgrounds where the trial was being held. Few others were allowed inside, but the trial was broadcast back to a courtroom in the Linn County Courthouse to allow for remote viewing.

A few trials have been held at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center during the pandemic — exact figures weren’t available from the trial court administrator on Monday or Tuesday — but the manslaughter case is the highest-profile proceeding to have been conducted at the alternate site.

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or kyle.odegard@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter via @KyleOdegard.

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