LOCK HAVEN - Keisha Cheyenne Vaughn, 28, of 4 Williamson Heights, Lock Haven, was bound over for court on charges of simple assault, endangering the welfare of children and reckless endangering of another person for the alleged burning of a child with a cigarette last summer.
Vaughn appeared for a preliminary hearing in Central District Court before District Judge Frank Mills, who concluded the most serious charge of aggravated assault should be dismissed.
The conclusion was announced after the hearing, and after a lengthy closed-door conference with Assistant District Attorney Karen Kuebler and defense attorney David Strouse.
Complicating the hearing was a "tender years motion" and hearing held earlier before Clinton County Judge Craig Miller, who ruled the youngster's testimony could be submitted for the record, without forcing the youngster to testify.
Stouse argued strongly the admitted testimony was hearsay and prevented him from the right to cross examination. He also argued the grandmother's testimony should be examined for discrepancies between what she might have said at that hearing, and in apparently conflicting statements to police and other authorities.
He also noted the grandmother's boyfriend smoked, and could have caused the injuries, a theory not investigated by the authorities.
In his closing arguments, Strouse said it was equally valid to argue that the child was alone with the grandmother 12 days after the apparent incident is alleged to have occurred, so she had opportunity to cause the injuries. Under this theory, the grandmother would have burned the child, and fearing the actions of Children and Youth, tried to cover up the crime by blaming Vaughn.
Kuebler argued the evidence clearly showed when the child left the grandmother's care, there were no burns, and when she returned, the child was injured. She also pointed to conflicting statements made by Vaughn, concerning her awareness of the injuries and when they happened. Vaughn at first said she didn't see any burns, then said some of the burns came when the baby accidentally touched a stove burner.
Statements by Vaughn's children were also introduced into evidence, with one of those youngsters supporting the claims of an accidental burn at the stove, but no explanation forthcoming as to how the cigarette burns occurred.
The possession of a container of makeup also came into play. The grandmother suggested the container was placed in the diaper bag by Vaughn when she returned the child home. Strouse argued it was equally believable to claim that the grandmother used the makeup to cover the burns.
Much of the judge's dismissal was based upon an assessment of the child's condition by a physician, as listed in a pre-printed form. The form asked the doctor to check an appropriate box for the description, and the doctor marked the description containing the words, "severe pain."
Not marked, but also included in the form, was a description that outlined serious bodily injury as one of the medical conditions - and serious bodily injury is a legal component justifying the felony charge of aggravated assault.
Vaughn was charged by Cpl. Kristin Sager of the Lock Haven City Police Department, following an investigation by Children and Youth Services in Mifflin and Clinton counties, based on a school's suspicious that the child had been physically abused.
Vaughn was initially placed in the Clinton County Correctional Facility in lieu of $25,000 bail, after she was arrested on charges that she burnt the hands and arm of a 3-year-old child in August, city police said.
Vaughn allegedly burned the 3-year-old girl while babysitting for the youngster's grandmother for about a week in August, according to the affidavit of probable cause. The grandmother has legal custody and the mother is living in Indiana.
The child suffered multiple burn marks on her hands and arm, police said.
Police said Vaughn burned the hands, arms and buttocks of the youngster, leaving scars on the skin.
The issue came to light on Sept. 7 when Mifflin County Children and Youth Services received a report of a child with multiple burn marks on her hands, arms and buttocks area. The grandmother resides in Mifflin County.
A witness said the toddler stayed with Vaughn for a time and when the child was returned to the care of the legal guardian, the victim was asked about the burn marks and said Vaughn burned her with a cigarette because Vaughn was mad.
Police interviewed Vaughn, who denied causing the injuries and said she didn't know how the burn marks occurred. She told police when the youngster left her care the only injury was a bump on the forehead and a scrape on the arm from tripping over a cord in the living room.
In a second interview, the affidavit said, Vaughn acknowledged lying to the court and police, and said she accidentally caused one burn mark to the arm. She also said she didn't want to get blamed for all the burns, and added that the child burned her fingertips on a gas stove, causing blisters.
Vaughn faces court arraignment at a later date, at which time she will be offered an opportunity to enter a plea to the charges.