Testimony ends in trial over fatal school bathroom fight

AP News
Posted: Apr 10, 2017 2:23 PM

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Three girls charged in a school bathroom fight that left a 16-year-old Delaware girl dead told a judge on Monday that they have opted not to testify in their trial, bringing an end to testimony in the case.

A Family Court judge presiding over the non-jury trial involving the death of Amy Joyner-Francis is to hear closing arguments Tuesday afternoon.

A 17-year-old girl is charged with criminally negligent homicide, while two others 17-year-olds are charged with conspiracy for allegedly helping plan the fight. All three are being tried as juveniles. The Associated Press is not naming them because they are minors.

Had she been tried and convicted as an adult, the girl charged with homicide would have faced up to eight years in prison. If declared delinquent, she would be subject to supervision until age 19.

Dr. Richard Ringel, a pediatric cardiologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University, testified Monday that Joyner-Francis suffered from an extremely rare heart condition that had gone undetected by her doctors. He said the girl's death after a fight at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington last April was unforeseeable.

Ringel said Joyner-Francis suffered from Eisenmenger syndrome, an extremely rare condition for someone her age in which a heart defect combines with severe pulmonary hypertension.

"It is very uncommon to have this combination of problems in a teenager," Ringel said, adding that there's a greater chance of being struck by lightning than having a child die suddenly from unrecognized cardiac disease.

An autopsy found that Joyner-Francis died of sudden cardiac death, aggravated by physical and emotional stress from the fight, which was captured on cell phone video and played in court.

Prosecutors contend that, despite her underlying condition, Joyner-Francis would not have died had she not been attacked.

While Ringel did not dispute the autopsy results, he said there was no way of knowing that Joyner-Francis was at risk of sudden death, any more than a person could predict that an athlete who appears healthy and fit one day suddenly collapses and dies on the playing field the next day.

After the conclusion of testimony, Judge Robert Coonin rejected a defense request that he consider the inability of investigators to find Joyner-Francis' school-issued iPad to be a mitigating factor for acquittal.

Attorney Raymond Armstrong, representing one of the girls charged with conspiracy, argued that the missing iPad would have shed light on what Joyner-Francis was thinking and saying in the days and hours leading up to the fight.

Prosecutor Sean Lugg argued that there was plenty of evidence from the digital devices of other students, and that investigators had no duty "to find something that wasn't findable."

Prosecutors say that in an online group chat the day before the attack, Joyner-Francis offered advice to one of her friends about a problem involving a boy, telling her friend to "just be careful." A detective testified that the defendants were later brought into the chat, and that the alleged attacker thought Joyner-Francis — who had warned that someone might betray another person — was talking about her.

A Snapchat posting by one of the defendants that same day shows Joyner-Francis talking to her alleged assailant in the bathroom, purportedly to try to defuse the situation. The posting notes that the girl later charged with homicide was "bouta fight her," followed by several emojis indicating that a person was laughing so hard she was crying.