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Judge drops three counts in van death

Marlo Fallings listens to a witness give testimony Thursday afternoon. She and her daughter, Quantabia Hopkins, are charged with murder in the death of Jazmin Green, 2. Next to her is Hopkins’ attorney, Bruce Harvey. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

Marlo Fallings listens to a witness give testimony Thursday afternoon. She and her daughter, Quantabia Hopkins, are charged with murder in the death of Jazmin Green, 2. Next to her is Hopkins’ attorney, Bruce Harvey. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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April McAlister, in the center, sits with friends during the trial of two women accused of causing the death of her child, Jazmin Green, 2. Green was in the care of Marlo’s Magnificent Learning Center when she was left strapped in a car seat inside a van June 20, 2011. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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GBI Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Stacey Desamours testifies about the autopsy and cause of death of Jazmin Green, 2, in Clayton County Superior Court. Marlo Fallings and her daughter, Quantabia Hopkins, are charged with murder in the child’s death.

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Southern Regional Medical Center emergency room Dr. Jumoke Alim identifies a photo of Jazmin Green, a 2-year-old whose life he tried to save June 20, 2011, after she was left several hours inside a day care center van. He is under questioning by Clayton County prosecutor Deah Warren. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

JONESBORO — After hearing legal arguments Thursday, a Clayton County judge dropped one murder charge against a day care center owner accused with her daughter in the death of a toddler in their care.

Atlanta attorney Bruce Harvey argued for directed verdicts of acquittal for Quantabia Hopkins, the daughter of Marlo Fallings. Both women face murder charges in the June 20, 2011, death of Jazmin Green, 2.

Green was left strapped in a car seat inside a van after it returned to the Jonesboro center following a trip to a Fayetteville Chuck E. Cheese with seven other kids. She was pronounced dead several hours later at Southern Regional Medical Center after nearly an hour of futile attempts to save her life.

Fallings’ attorney, Andre Johnson, joined Harvey’s argument on behalf of his client.

“There is nothing in this case to prove criminal negligence,” said Harvey. “Nothing to elevate the act of cruelty to children to felony murder. There is no evidence of willful conduct, no evidence of wanton conduct.”

Fallings rocked back and forth in her seat at the defense table as the attorneys made their arguments before Judge Matthew Simmons. Harvey hinged one of his arguments on the testimony on Georgia Bureau of Investigation Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Stacey Desamours.

Desamours, who conducted the child’s autopsy, testified earlier Thursday afternoon that Green’s cause of death was hyperthermia as the result of an accident, based on the information provided her by police.

“Her death was ruled in the category of an accident for our purposes,” she said. “We were told she’d been left inside a hot van on a hot June summer day, that it was unintentional.”

Under direct-examination by Clayton County prosecutor Deah Warren, Desamours said a person suffering from hyperthermia would likely exhibit a number of debilitating and painful symptoms as the body temperature increased and caused organs to shut down.

However, in making his argument to drop a child cruelty charge against Hopkins, Harvey said the testimony was given in general and wasn’t applied to Green.

“There’s no proof that happened in this case,” he said, “or even that Miss Green was awake.”

Neither defendant went on the field trip. In fact, Fallings’ younger daughter, who was 16 at the time, did — a violation of state regulations, a state’s witness testified Wednesday. The teenager pleaded guilty in 2011 to involuntary manslaughter. Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steve Teske’s sentence included probation and a memorial to the child created by the teenager.

However, both adults reportedly admitted to Clayton County police they fabricated state-mandated checklists that showed each child got off the van when it returned to the center the day the child died.

“If not for her lack of supervision, we wouldn’t be here,” said Warren of Fallings. “She signed the form, she’s a party to that crime. More than one adult was supposed to be there. She signed that she was there. She was not. She aided and abetted.”

Simmons denied a verdict of acquittal on one charge each of murder and cruelty to children in the second degree. He granted the dismissal of one count each of murder and contributing to the deprivation of a minor in Fallings’ case. Simmons also dropped a charge of contributing to the deprivation of a minor against Hopkins.

“That count alleges Ms. Hopkins filled out the form before the van returned,” he said. “There’s no evidence she did so. There’s no evidence Ms. Hopkins was a party to that.”

Fallings’ dropped charges alleged she contributed to Green’s deprivation by leaving her alone in the van.

“There is insufficient evidence on that,” said Simmons.

Fallings and Hopkins face remaining charges of murder and child cruelty. Hopkins is also charged with a second murder count and one of contributing to the deprivation of a minor. If convicted of murder, they face a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole.