Apr. 7—GRANGEVILLE — The careless way Forrest J. Pilant was holding an infant who appeared to be seriously injured and his aloof manner after the baby was whisked by ambulance to the hospital struck Chad Beeson, Pilant's neighbor, as odd.
Beeson was next door working on his house when he heard Pilant call his name. It was Nov. 30, 2019 — a cold but clear autumn day, Beeson said.
"(Pilant) said, 'Something's happened to my baby,' " Beeson recalled during testimony in 2nd District Court here Tuesday.
Pilant was holding the 16-month-old girl away from his body and "at that point it didn't even appear she was breathing," Beeson said. Her head was flopping sideways and the child had no clothes on. Beeson said he had to tell Pilant several times to support the girl's head and to wrap her up in a blanket.
Pilant, 24, is accused of felony injury to a child and aggravated battery. He was arrested shortly after the incident and has been free on a $35,000 bond. Pilant has pleaded innocent to both charges.
The jury trial that started this week is the first to take place in Idaho County since the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring. Courtroom protocol has been altered according to Idaho Supreme Court guidelines, with 14 jurors — including six women and eight men — seated apart from each other throughout the courtroom. All are required to wear masks and seating space for visitors is limited.
Both the prosecutor's and defense attorney's tables have been shifted sideways in the upper area of the courtroom to be visible to the jurors. Witnesses are asked to wear face shields and three large TV screens have been mounted on the walls for evidence viewing.
During recesses, Judge Gregory FitzMaurice instructed the jury to stay in place while the attorneys and others in the courtroom were asked to leave. No coffee or tea can be provided, FitzMaurice said, because of COVID-19 restrictions. And witnesses and jurors are given bottles of water rather than plastic cups filled from a pitcher, as before.
The child's mother, Emilie Antilla, 21, was the first witness called. Antilla said she and Pilant had been living together for several months before the incident happened. She was not at home when the incident happened, and Pilant was looking after the child.
Antilla said even though she never witnessed Pilant being rough with her child, after he moved in, small bruises cropped on her body. At one point, she said, she took her daughter to the emergency room at Syringa General Hospital in Grangeville because the girl had coughed up blood in her crib.
The medical workers told her they could find nothing wrong after checking over the baby, Antilla said. But she said her daughter would cry and try to follow her whenever she left the child alone in the room with Pilant.
As the child was taken to the hospital in Grangeville — and later flown to Providence Sacred Heart Children's Hospital in Spokane following the Nov. 30, 2019, incident — Antilla said Pilant told her the baby had fallen in the bathtub, causing several large bruises on her body. Antilla said Pilant also had told her "(the baby) had been very fussy that day and at one point he said that he was just done with her," Antilla recalled.
Testimony will continue today and the trial is expected to last throughout the week.
Hedberg may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 983-2326.