In testimony central to both prosecution and defense arguments, opposing expert witnesses spent Thursday disputing which of several injuries killed 6-year-old Whitney Williams in 2016.
Two physicians took the stand on the fourth day in the capital murder trial of Evan David Nolan, 28, of League City, who’s charged with beating his stepdaughter to death while he was watching her and his 1-year-old daughter in the family’s apartment.
Whitney Williams died of severe injuries, including brain trauma, a lacerated liver and internal bleeding, law enforcement officials have said.
Thursday’s testimony addressed both a key prosecution argument and what seemed from earlier questioning to be Nolan’s main defense.
Prosecutors have argued the child was injured and died in a very narrow window when only Nolan could have been responsible. Defense attorneys meanwhile have argued the girl’s mother, Brithony Williams, could have caused the fatal injuries.
Prosecution witness Glenn Sandberg, a neuropathology physician at Baylor College of Medicine, testified that Whitney Williams’ brain showed signs of two different injuries — bleeding three to five days before her death and then a second brain bleed less than three days before she died.
Both injuries were likely caused by severe blunt force trauma, Sandberg said.
“The force needed to do this is not explained by a kid being a kid,” Sandberg said.
The first injury did not exacerbate the second, but because children’s brains are larger than adults, the effects of the second injury should have manifested quickly, Sandberg said.
After Sandberg finished testifying, Nolan’s defense attorneys requested a directed verdict, asserting the state hadn’t proven Nolan had caused Williams’ death.
Judge Lonnie Cox denied the motion and the defense called Paul Radelat, a clinical pathologist, to the stand, who took a different view of Williams’ injuries.
“I think the first injury caused slow bleeding, which led to a seizure,” Radelat said.
Whitney Williams then would have thrashed around during the seizure, which would have caused the second injuries, Radelat said.
Whitney Williams’ other injuries, such as the lacerated liver, might be caused by CPR efforts, Radelat said.
But Chief Assistant District Attorney Adam Poole disputed Radelat’s explanation, pointing out that Whitney Williams didn’t have any broken ribs.
“That’s an important point, isn’t it?” Poole asked. “Are you saying a seizure caused a lacerated liver?”
Nolan texted Brithony Williams Aug. 17, 2016, to come home, Brithony Williams testified Tuesday.
Williams arrived home to find her daughter unconscious on a blanket and rushed her out the door before speaking with anyone else, she said.
A League City police officer driving to work the evening of Aug. 17 spotted a motorist driving recklessly and stopped the vehicle in the 1500 block of East Main Street.
Williams got out of the vehicle carrying her unconscious daughter, police said.
Williams and later emergency medical personnel attempted CPR on the girl before taking her to Clear Lake Regional Medical Center, and later to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, where she died the next day, Brithony Williams said.
Williams initially told detectives a baby sitter had been watching her children, but she could not provide police with a phone number for the caretaker, according to the affidavits.
Williams told police the baby sitter had called her at work to tell her Whitney had suffered a seizure and hit her head, according to the affidavits.
When detectives questioned Williams about text messages with Nolan, indicating he was watching the girl, she told investigators Nolan had been watching her daughters at the couple’s League City apartment, according to the affidavits.
League City police and U.S. Marshals arrested Nolan after a traffic stop the day after officers encountered the girl, police said.
Radelat’s testimony will continue today.
The trial is expected to last through the week, Poole said.