A jury in Oklahoma County deliberated 40 minutes Thursday before finding a baby sitter guilty of first-degree murder in the beating death a 2-year-old girl left in her care.
The panel chose a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for Van Le, who was charged with first-degree murder in the Sept. 24 death of Jessica Chau.
The little girl was hospitalized two days earlier with a fractured skull and brain and eye injuries after her mother dropped her off at Le's before work.
Le, 50, of Oklahoma City, took the witness stand and denied injuring Jessica, despite conflicting testimony from the woman's 8-year-old son and a battery of doctors who treated the child before and after she was hurt.
“I think the strength of the evidence is shown by the relatively short time the jury was out deliberating,” Assistant District Attorney Gayland Gieger said. “She significantly changed her account of what happened after she heard the medical testimony.
Le told the jury she had trouble waking Jessica, who had been battling a stomach bug, and tried to revive her because she wasn't breathing. She said she picked up the girl and shook her then put her on the floor “very hard.”
“I never hurt Jessica. I love Jessica,” she testified, wiping away tears.
It was the first visible sign of emotion from Le, a diminutive Vietnamese woman who remained stoic throughout her four-day trial in District Judge Ray C. Elliott's courtroom.
She showed no emotion when the verdict was read and declined to comment outside of court. She will be sentenced June 27.
The boy, who now lives with foster parents, testified Tuesday. He said he watched his mother pick the girl up by her legs and slam her head into the floor “twice or several times” because she was mad at the girl for jumping on a bed.
The prosecutor startled jurors during his closing argument by yelling “quit jumping on the bed” then slamming a law book on the floor to demonstrate the force with which the little girl was thrown.
“That's what he saw,” Gieger said.
Jessica's mother declined to comment after the verdict was read. She testified earlier in the week, tearfully describing for jurors the girl's final days.
Mina Chau testified through an interpreter about trusting Le to watch her two children while she worked at a nail salon in Guthrie.
Chau said Le had been baby-sitting her 6-year-old daughter and Jessica for about a year.
She recalled Jessica being in a “playful” mood and riding her little pink bike before being dropped off at the defendant's house the day she was hospitalized.
Prosecutors accused Le of changing her story to fit evidence presented by doctors.
“I think it's clear to all of us that she was lying to you,” Assistant District Attorney Marcy Fassio told jurors in her closing argument. “Clearly, she has a motivation to lie to you.”