Judge rejects 'preposterous' theory in baby's death, acquits B.C. dad of murder

The Crown's theory that a Burnaby dad killed his newborn daughter because her crying interrupted his plan to watch hockey is "preposterous," according to a B.C. judge.

James Travis Park was charged with 2nd-degree murder in death of 7-week-old daughter

James Travis Park's daughter was just seven weeks old when she died. (Panom Pensawang/Shutterstock)

The Crown's theory that a Burnaby dad killed his newborn daughter because her crying interfered with his plans to watch hockey is "preposterous," according to a B.C. judge.

James Travis Park's seven-week-old baby, Adriana, died of a massive brain injury caused by blunt force trauma. Park was found not guilty last week of second-degree murder and the lesser included charge of manslaughter in connection with her death.

The little girl was rushed to hospital on March 1, 2015, after an evening spent in the care of her father while her mother was at yoga. Crown counsel argued that Park killed the baby because he was annoyed she'd interrupted an evening he'd planned with friends.

On Friday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jeanne Watchuk wrote that prosecutors had failed to prove Park intentionally caused Adriana's injuries and said it was just as likely the baby's death was an accident.

"I agree with the defence characterization of this motive as preposterous, as 'it really amounts to this: Mr. Park intentionally killed Adriana, his seven week old daughter who he loved, cared for, did everything for, because he was frustrated that he could not watch a hockey game,'" Watchuk wrote.

The judge found that Adriana's injuries could have been accidental. (David Horemans/CBC)

The trial heard that when Park's common-law wife, known as A.T. in court documents, returned home from her yoga class, she found Park and Adriana lying in bed with the lights off. She testified that the baby's face "just didn't look right" — her eyes seemed bruised and her lips were puffy.

When A.T. moved the baby to another room, she saw that Adriana was limp and moaning. Park suspected that the baby was having an allergic reaction, and after several minutes, his worried partner called 911, according to the judgment.

A CT scan later showed that Adriana's skull had been fractured, and a forensic pathologist told the court it would have taken a "significant recent blunt force head injury" to injure the baby so severely.

Still, it wasn't possible to say whether someone had intentionally hit the baby, according to Watchuk.

'A decision I made so quickly'

Much of the prosecution's case was based on a short statement Park made to police when he was arrested, 19 months after Adriana's death.

Park had been in custody for more than 24 hours and had repeatedly denied hurting the baby, according to the judge.

But during a cigarette break with one of the investigating officers, Park lamented, "Waste of a life, f—kin' five seconds."

When the officer asked what he meant, Park replied, "What a waste of a life, for a decision I made so quickly."

"You just snapped?" the officer asked. "Is that what you mean by it happened so quickly?"

"Yeah," Park answered.

However, the judge pointed out that Park's meaning wasn't clear, and parts of the statement didn't match up with the available evidence.

For one thing, Park told the officer that he was "hammered, like beyond" on the night Adriana was rushed to hospital.

But the first responders who dealt with the injured baby described Park as lucid and articulate, and the friends who'd spent the evening with him testified that he'd consumed, at most, two beers.

'We were both just so lost'

Meanwhile, A.T. testified that Park was her "rock" and a great dad to Adriana. She said she'd left him alone with the baby "a billion times" before the fatal incident.

"He sang to Adriana, played with her and loved her very much. He had great patience with Adriana and was also a great help to A.T., staying home for the first three weeks after Adriana was born," Watchuk wrote.

Police also looked into whether the mother might have been responsible for the baby's death, according to the judgment.

But in the end, Watchuk said that none of the expert witnesses were able to offer a theory for what happened to Adriana.

"While it may be human nature to seek to make this inference, the expert witnesses have not provided sufficient evidence, nor is there a ready made inference regarding the type of act that could or would cause these injuries," the judge wrote.  

A.T. testified that she and Park had many conversations where they both expressed their guilt for what had happened.

"We were both just so lost, and we both said a bunch of ridiculous things. And, yeah, something along the lines of being guilty for it. Either — either by neglecting her or me going to yoga," she told the court.

"[I was] saying that it was my fault, and him saying, 'no, it's my fault,' as any parents would have."

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay has more than a decade of experience in B.C. journalism, with a focus on the courts, health and social justice issues. She has also reported on human rights and crimes against humanity in Cambodia. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.