A 7-year-old girl who Pima County prosecutors say was intentionally scalded by her mother told jurors Friday that her mother held her down in a tub of hot water and prevented her from getting out.
But during cross-examination by Samantha Osteraas’ defense attorney, Jeffrey Rogers, the girl, who was 5 at the time, wavered slightly, saying at one point she’d been left alone in the bathtub while her mother left the room.
Osteraas has been charged with two felony counts of child abuse in connection with intentionally burning the girl and waiting what prosecutors say was several hours before calling 911 to seek help.
Prior to the child’s testimony, her attorneys filed a motion with Pima County Superior Court Judge James Marner to clear the courtroom of the more than 30 spectators packed into the gallery.
While Marner denied the motion, citing concerns for Osteraas’ right to a fair trial and potential for a mistrial if the public’s access was limited, he ordered that the girl’s biological parents and grandmother — whose rights had previously been severed — would not be allowed in the courtroom during her testimony, after the child’s therapist and a clinical psychiatrist submitted letters detailing the potential damage to the girl.
Wearing a pink-and-beige striped dress and a pink bow in her hair, the child took the witness stand, clutching a stuffed animal throughout the 20-minute questioning.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Alan Goodwin started out with questions about the child’s favorite book and colors before moving onto questions about the girl’s many surgeries following the Dec. 29, 2016, incident.
Nearly all of the 14 jurors leaned forward as the girl spoke, intently listening to the child talk about having to use lotion and ointments on her body to help her severely burned skin feel better.
She suffered third-degree burns over more than 70 percent of her body.
The girl told Goodwin she’d been burned “in a hot bath” and that her mom “put her in there” and said she had to stay, before holding her in the tub with a pink towel.
When the child said she didn’t remember where on her body Osteraas held her, Goodwin referenced a previous conversation she had with a child-advocacy representative, during which she indicated Osteraas had held her down by her shoulders and arms.
Goodwin asked the child about the brown shirt she wore under her dress, a medical garment designed to help the scars go away. The girl said she had scars on her back, tummy and legs.
When Goodwin asked the girl her mommy’s name, she quickly answered, “Samantha Osteraas,” ending the state’s questioning.
Rogers asked the child if she fell asleep in the bathtub the night of the incident and if she remembered telling a lady at the hospital that she had, to which the girl responded “no” on both counts.
At one point during cross-examination, the girl told Rogers that Osteraas had left her alone with the water running and later said that she’d been crying because she was left alone.
The child said she wasn’t able to get out of the tub by herself but didn’t remember who eventually got her out.
Goodwin followed up with a question about how the water felt, to which the girl said “hot,” ending her testimony.
Osteraas smiled with her lawyers as Goodwin walked the child out of the courtroom. When Goodwin returned, he told the judge he wanted to readmit certain statements from a previous witness, saying that Rogers had impeached the girl on the stand.
Both lawyers will be filing briefs about the contested testimony, which involves statements the child made about the incident when she was interviewed in the hospital.
Court will resume Tuesday, with the state calling its final witnesses.
Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at email@example.com or 573-4191. Twitter: @caitlincschmidt