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Foster mother convicted on child abuse charge but acquitted of battery Infant girl was treated for arm, leg, rib fractures

A Baltimore County jury convicted foster mother Mary Ellen Johnson of child abuse but acquitted her of battery yesterday in the beating last year of baby Jean Douglas-White, who was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital with fractures to an arm, a leg and ribs.

The jury deliberated nearly five hours before finding Johnson guilty of abusing the baby, born Aug. 15 suffering from withdrawal from drugs that her mother took during pregnancy. The baby was 3 weeks old when she was placed in Johnson's care.

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Baltimore County Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. sentenced Johnson to three months in prison, to be followed by two years of probation.

"I think she deserved more time because what she'd done to my daughter," said the baby's mother, Donna Douglas. "She broke her leg and arm and ribs," said Douglas, who says she has kicked her heroin habit and is seeking custody of her daughter, who is being cared for by a family friend.

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A pediatrician at Hopkins, where the baby was treated in October, testified that the baby's injuries probably occurred while she was in Johnson's care -- between Sept. 10 and Oct. 2.

But Johnson and her lawyer, Sherrie T. Howell-Young, told the jury that the baby came into the foster mother's care with injuries that were overlooked by the city's Department of Social Services.

Johnson testified that social workers brought the baby to her from another foster mother on Sept. 10 with a severe diaper rash.

Johnson's lawyer noted that a health report from social services lacked information about the baby's sleep habits and about whether she had "special considerations" -- though social workers told Johnson the infant was going through drug withdrawal.

Johnson testified that the baby "cried, she fretted, she didn't eat right." She said she told social workers soon after she took the baby that her "[physical movement] wasn't normal."

One social worker testified that Johnson never mentioned injuries to the baby's leg, arm or ribs. But another human resources worker testified that Johnson informed her of the injuries.

That worker, Deshawn Coleman, who monitored Johnson as a foster mother, said Johnson told her "something was wrong with the child's leg" on Sept. 16 -- six days after social workers brought the baby to her home in eastern Baltimore County.

But a Sept. 18 visit to the emergency room of Franklin Square Hospital showed no injuries. Assistant State's Attorney John Cox said a social worker took the infant to Franklin Square for the examination because of complaints from Johnson about the infant's constant crying -- not any injuries.

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Johnson and her lawyer, however, say Johnson wanted the baby examined because she worried about swelling in the baby's leg. Johnson's lawyer said the hospital nurse must have missed the injuries in her examination.

But Cox told the jury in closing arguments that Franklin Square gave the baby a careful examination and a clean bill of health. Therefore, the baby's bones were broken after she was returned to Johnson's care, Cox said.

Johnson denied in testimony that she ever hurt the infant.

"I loved her to death on first sight," Johnson said. "I'd never seen a child like that before. This was not a happy baby."

Pub Date: 7/24/97


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