Belonga jury deliberates for second full day
NASHUA – Jurors deliberated for a second full day Thursday without reaching a verdict in the case of a mother accused of killing her 21-month-old daughter in 2006.
Nicole Belonga, 27, of 65 Alder Drive, Nashua, could face up to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, though the charge carries no mandatory minimum and typical sentences are less than life.
Her daughter, Rylea Belonga, died in January 2006 of brain injuries that doctors testified could only have been caused by violent abuse, including shaking and some sort of blow to the head. Jurors began hearing evidence in Belonga’s trial Oct 21 and heard closing arguments and legal instructions in the case Tuesday.
Prosecutors contend that the timing and onset of Rylea’s symptoms proves that Belonga caused her daughter’s death, while Belonga’s lawyers blame a baby sitter’s boyfriend, who was with Rylea when she collapsed.
On Thursday afternoon, jurors asked their first question, seeking clarification on the instructions on direct and circumstantial evidence, lawyers said. The instructions on circumstantial evidence are crucial to the case, because there is no direct evidence regarding Rylea’s injuries. Direct evidence involves first-hand knowledge: something a person saw, heard or did. If anyone saw who killed Rylea, they aren’t telling.
Standard New Hampshire jury instructions on circumstantial evidence, such as these from the state Bar Association Web site, are harder to follow: “Circumstantial evidence is indirect evidence, that is, proof of a chain of facts from which you could find that another fact exists, although it has not been proved directly. For example, if you look outside and see water droplets falling from the sky, that is direct evidence that it is raining. But if you look out the window at night and the ground is dry and again the next morning and the ground is wet, that is indirect or circumstantial evidence that it rained during the night.”
On the other hand, judges will note, the puddles can’t tell you much about how long it rained or when.
Juries are told they should consider direct and circumstantial evidence and can give them “equal weight,” but in order to convict a person, “circumstantial evidence must exclude all other rational conclusions.”
“This means that if, from the circumstantial evidence, it is rational to arrive at two conclusions, one consistent with guilt and one consistent with innocence, then you must choose the rational conclusion consistent with innocence.”
In other words, a tie goes to the defendant.
Jurors are scheduled to resume deliberations this morning. Visit nashuatelegraph.com for updates.