Nov. 14—To prosecutors, the 2019 death of 1 1/2 -year-old Kamryn Cummings was the end to a life of neglect characterized by a filthy, crowded home, her lack of medical care and hundreds of lice found crawling on her lifeless body.
But the lawyer for her father, whose trial on a negligent homicide charge opened Monday, attributed her death to the SIDS-like Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood. He also cautioned that Hillsborough County prosecutors and medical experts can't pinpoint what caused her death.
"In this case, as in many cases, there was an urgent need to find someone responsible, someone to blame," Concord lawyer Ted Lothstein told a jury on Monday.
He spoke on the opening day of the trial of Christian Cummings, 24, who faces charges of negligent homicide, child endangerment and reckless conduct.
Guilty verdicts could send Cummings to prison for 10 to 30 years.
The trial at Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester is expected to last all week.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Mark Ryder said the toddler was sick. Family members warned Cummings that his daughter was ill, and several are listed as prosecution witnesses.
"He knew Baby Kamryn was in danger and did nothing about it," said Ryder, an assistant Hillsborough county attorney.
Ryder also said the toddler was infested with lice. A police report said the bugs were in her face, eyes and ears. The autopsy mentions the lice as a factor in her death, noting their feeding on her blood created an iron deficiency.
But Lothstein disputed the notion of lice being a factor in the death. The baby's parents had her treated for lice in the past, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center has issued printed material that says lice are not dangerous and do not spread disease, he said.
Lothstein said the child died of Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 1,800 children older than 1 year die from SUDC annually. Younger children die of the more commonly known Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Much of the trial will hinge on the autopsy, conducted by a former doctor with the state Office of Medical Examiner, Dr. Christine James. She left New Hampshire for a job in Kansas.
James' boss, state Medical Examiner, Dr. Jennie Duval, has been critical of James' work on the autopsy.
Meanwhile, the defense has its own expert — former New Hampshire state medical examiner Dr. Thomas Andrew — who is expected to testify on behalf of the defense and explain SUDC.
The indictment for negligent homicide said the child died of dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and/or a blood infection that started in the urinary system.
Lothstein focused on the "and/or" language of the indictment.
"It's hard to accept, but even the state experts don't know how Kamryn died," Lothstein said.
On Monday, the jury viewed the Colby Road home in Weare where the child died in February 2019. During the month she died, 17 animals and seven people were living in the cluttered home.
In the days before Kamryn died, a cold went through the house, Lothstein said. The baby caught it too. She vomited two days in a row. She never had a fever, Lothstein said, and by the third day she did not throw up.
"She was a little sluggish, but I didn't think much of it," her uncle, who is now a teenager, testified. "She was still playful like she always was. She was joyful, happy."
The uncle's lawyer asked that his client's name not be published.
Cummings and his wife, Mikayla Cochran, were arrested shortly after Kamryn died, and they were released on bail.
Cummings was subsequently arrested several times in Manchester and Weare on charges that involved fentanyl and methamphetamine.
He also has been charged with domestic assault.
Last month, a judge ordered him jailed on $10,000 cash bail after state police pulled him over for speeding on the Everett Turnpike.
Cochran is expected to go on trial next year.