Verdict comes after 35 minutes of deliberation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 18, 2002

NATCHEZ &045; It didn’t take long for a jury of 10 women and two men to find Jeffery Havard guilty of murdering and sexually assaulting 6-month-old Chloe Madison Britt Wednesday.

But when it came to deciding whether Havard, 24, should receive the death penalty, the jury wasn’t able to act so quickly.

Nearly three hours into their deliberation Wednesday, the jury asked the court for permission to sleep on it and will continue to struggle with its decision today.

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The jury had taken just 35 minutes to arrive at a verdict.

The jury’s conclusion came after more than a day of evidence and testimony presented by District Attorney Ronnie Harper and Assistant District Attorney Tom Rosenblatt.

Britt died on Feb. 21 at Natchez Community Hospital of brain injuries caused by violent shaking.

At that time, Havard and the victim’s mother, 23-year-old Rebecca Britt, had lived together in a trailer on Montgomery Road for three weeks.

According to the elder Britt’s testimony and a videotaped statement by the defendant, Havard sent Britt out to the supermarket, then the video store.

When Britt returned, her daughter wasn’t breathing, and Havard was locked in the bathroom.

The couple rushed the infant to the emergency room. A team of doctors and nurses managed to get the girl’s heart beating for a few minutes, but further resuscitation efforts were abandoned when her brain became irreversibly swollen.

While trying to take the infant’s temperature, Dr. Ayesha Dar testified she discovered that the baby’s rectum had been damaged in a manner consistent with sexual abuse.

On Wednesday, Dr. Stephen Hayne, a forensic pathologist with the state crime lab in Jackson, confirmed what the Natchez Community personnel who attempted to save Chloe Britt had said the day before.

In the course of his autopsy, Hayne found bruises on the baby’s forehead, nose and inner thighs, rectal injuries and a torn upper frenulum &045; the tissue that connects the lip to the gum.

On the night of the incident, Havard said he had no idea how Britt could have been injured. Havard said he gave her a bath after she spat up on herself and put her to bed.

But in the videotaped statement, taken two days later, Havard said he dropped the baby while taking her out of the bathtub. When she became quiet, he said he gave her a light shake.

Hayne testified the injuries the baby sustained could only be caused by the kind of force produced by a fall from a high height or an automobile crash.

&uot;We’re talking about very violent shaking,&uot; he said. &uot;It was consistent with homicide.&uot;

Havard’s said he was unable to explain the rectal injuries, guessing only that he &uot;went too hard on her when (he) was wiping her.&uot;

The only gap in the prosecution’s case seemed to be a lack of conclusive DNA evidence. None of Havard’s DNA was found on or in the victim’s body, although Hayne said such evidence could be obscured with a careful washing.

Amy Watson, a forensic scientist with the state lab, said she found Havard’s DNA on the infant’s bedclothes, but it was mixed with Rebecca Britt’s DNA and could have been deposited months before the night in question.

After two dozen witnesses for the prosecution, defense attorneys Robert Clark and Gus Sermos called just one witness: Brian Rabb, a nurse at Natchez Regional Medical Center who took a blood sample from Havard after his arrest.

Rabb’s testimony was brief and seemed to lack exculpatory facts.

Sermos and Clark opted not to let Havard testify on his own behalf. Sermos declined to give a reason for the decision.

&uot;We won’t even get into that,&uot; he said.

A relative of Havard who asked that his name not be used expressed concern that Sermos and Clark presented a weak case.

&uot;They didn’t argue nothing,&uot; he said.