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Jury deliberating whether Tucson mother intentionally burned her daughter
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Scarred for life Prosecution: The ‘Whys’ aren’t relevant Girl suffered 3rd-degree burns over 70 percent of body Prosecutor: ‘only way a child stays in that situation is if she is unable to get out’ Girl suffered 3rd-degree burns over 70 percent of body

Jury deliberating whether Tucson mother intentionally burned her daughter

Samantha Osteraas testified that she was “in shock” and that was why she made 17 phone calls before calling 911 after her daughter was scalded in a hot bath.

The first question before a Pima County jury is whether a local mother — one who says her life’s work is about helping children — is the victim of a false claim or guilty of holding her daughter down in water so hot the child’s skin fell off in clumps.

The second is whether she was too distraught to think clearly afterward, or if she instead avoided calling 911 because that would bring the police.

Samantha Osteraas’ adopted daughter was 5 when she suffered third-degree burns over more than 70 percent of her body in a bath.

Osteraas testified that the child got into the bath on her own and then stayed in, in a dazed state.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Alan Goodwin urged jurors to use common sense in deciding whether a child would sit in scalding water as the burns deepened, and whether a mother who claimed to care would wait hours to get help. The girl was “on death’s door” before Osteraas sought help, he said.

“A healthy child — and (the child) was a healthy child — does not just let herself sit in that situation, while a first-degree burn becomes a second-degree burn becomes a third-degree burn,” he said. “The only way a child stays in that situation is if she is unable to get out of that tub.”

A jury of nine women and three men began deliberating late Thursday afternoon about Osteraas’ actions on Dec. 29, 2016, and whether she is guilty of child abuse and of failing to get help in a reasonable amount of time.

Osteraas at times cried as she testified Wednesday and Thursday about finding the child in the bath. She said repeatedly that she was “in shock” and that was why she made 17 phone calls to a paramedic neighbor and his wife as well as to her husband before finally calling 911.

Defense attorney Jeff Rogers said Osteraas was distracted by her three other children, and suggested the child who was scalded might have fallen in the bath. He said she didn’t call 911 right away because she was too upset to think clearly.

“When people are hysterical, they don’t always do the logical thing,” he said. “People don’t always think rationally when they see a crisis like this.”

The delay in seeking help was not due to panic, Goodwin said, but instead was the action of someone afraid to call 911 because it will bring the police.

It was an attempt, he said, to “try to go on as if it hadn’t happened.”

Goodwin said Osteraas peeled off the child’s burned skin and even put the child in her pajamas after she was burned, in an attempt to make things normal. Jurors took samples of that clothing and burned skin, which are sealed in evidence bags, back to the jury room with them.

If Osteraas had called for help quickly, the prosecutor said, the child “would have been responding and her organs wouldn’t have been failing.”

“She would not have been on the brink of cardiac arrest,” he said. “There is no way that a mother would fail to understand that that is a child that’s in dire, dire straits.”

Doctors eventually had to amputate the child’s badly burned toes, and she will continue to need surgeries throughout her life to manage the scarring which runs from her chest down to her feet.

Last Friday, the child, now 7, testified her mother put her in the bath and would not let her get out.

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.

Rogers suggested to jurors in closing arguments Thursday that the child may have been in such a confused state that she mistook her mother helping her out of the bath for holding her down.

“Why, why, why would this woman do this?” Rogers said to the jury. “Why, why, why would someone, at the age of 28, snap and just do something like this?”

Goodwin said the reasons why Osteraas might have deliberately burned her daughter are not what the jury should consider. Perhaps Osteraas was mad at the child, but the reasons are unknowable and are not relevant in deciding if she is guilty, he said.

Osteraas’ husband, Justin, was seated behind her in the courtroom after he testified on her behalf Wednesday. He held his face in his hands and appeared to be crying as the prosecutor described the child’s injuries to the jury.

Justin Osteraas testified the allegations against his wife do not fit the person he knows. The couple are still living together, while she is out on bail. He said her call to him the night their daughter was burned was “the worst phone call that I ever got in my life.”

“She was very frantic,” he said of his wife. “I know she was scared. I could hear her crying and I knew that it was bad.”

Samantha Osteraas testified she was two classes away from a degree in early childhood education before they started having children and that all of her previous work, besides seasonal stints at a store, had been with children including nanny jobs, baby-sitting and then caring for several foster children with her husband.

“I’ve just always had a passion for children,” she said.

Rogers called three family friends to the stand Wednesday to speak on Osteraas’ behalf — a couple that attends her church and a neighbor from across the street.

The two women said the charges against Osteraas did not change their positive opinions of her, but the third witness, a father of young children from her church, said he would not let Osteraas watch his children after hearing a more detailed account of the state’s allegations.

The jury will continue deliberations Friday morning. The case is being heard in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge James Marner.

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at pmachelor@tucson.com or 806-7754. On Twitter: @pattymachstar


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