Kayleigh Slusher with pajamas on and her hair pulled back was talkative and high-spirited as her mother filmed her opening presents on what would turn out to be the 3-year-old’s final Christmas.
“What is it?” asks her mother, Sara Lynn Krueger, pointing out a toy her daughter had just unwrapped.
“A doggy!” squeals Kayleigh.
Napa County Deputy District Attorney Lance Hafenstein showed the three-minute video to the court on Monday morning not long before resting his case against Krueger, 27, and Ryan Scott Warner, 29, the couple accused of murdering Kayleigh in early 2014.
Hafenstein displayed the video while questioning his final witness, Dr. James Crawford-Jakubiak, medical director of The Center for Child Protection at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and an expert on child abuse and neglect.
“Kayleigh clearly spoke in a manner that anyone listening to her would know what she was saying,” testified Crawford-Jakubiak, who has reviewed the child’s medical and autopsy records, after watching the video. As the jury could see in the Christmas footage, Kayleigh was “fully understandable,” he said.
If Kayleigh was in distress – and she was – she would have been able to communicate that with one of her caretakers, Crawford-Jakubiak said.
Last week, a forensic pathologist testified that Kayleigh had suffered from several extremely painful injuries in the days leading up to her death. A 12-inch segment of her small intestine was dying and fluid, mostly blood and intestinal contents, from her small intestine, was leaking into her abdominal cavity.
The injuries, according to the doctor’s testimony, were caused by blunt force trauma. Kayleigh’s cause of death was listed as complications of mesenteric contusion and small intestinal hematoma caused by fatal child abuse and neglect.
Kayleigh also had a rib fracture that was in the process of healing. At Christmas, Crawford-Jakubiak said, Kayleigh had already started to heal from the fracture or she hadn’t received the injury yet.
Krueger’s attorney Jim McEntee opened his defense by calling Linda Reed, former owner of Napa day care center Sunshine & Rainbows, to the stand.
Reed testified that she knew Krueger because Kayleigh used to attend the day care and, at times, Krueger would work as a substitute teacher.
McEntee asked Reed why she had hired Krueger to work as a substitute – if it was because she was a “good mother?” Deputy District Attorney Kecia Lind objected, saying that his question was leading. McEntee rephrased his question.
“Yes, I’d seen her with her child and I would never have asked her if I didn’t think she was OK,” Reed said. But really, she said, she didn’t know Krueger very well and didn’t know much about their home life. Krueger worked for her for only 37½ hours between April 2013 and July 2013, she said.
McEntee’s next witness was Sara Krueger’s father, John Krueger. Upon seeing him, Sara Krueger’s lips frowned as she appeared to hold back tears.
John Krueger said that he, his daughter and granddaughter Kayleigh had spent Christmas together in 2013.
“We were gonna have a full day of dinner, presents and a fun time,” he said. Kayleigh, he said, received “lots of presents,” including a large dollhouse that his brother remodeled for her.
Krueger said that he had noticed his daughter losing weight, but didn’t suspect that she had been using drugs.
“I encouraged her to keep it up,” he said of the weight loss.
He was close with both Sara Krueger and Kayleigh, he said. He talked to his daughter daily and, after Warner moved in, the two of them still talked frequently until mid-January.
But he didn’t like Warner, he said.
“I wasn’t too impressed,” Krueger said of Warner. “I had offered him some work helping me split wood and his reaction was that he didn’t need my charity.”
During her cross-examination, Lind asked Krueger if he thought that Warner was a “bum” who was just using his daughter. He answered in the affirmative.
Krueger told his daughter how he felt about Warner that Christmas, he said.
Pulling out a transcript from Krueger’s interview with Napa Police, Lind asked Krueger if he remembered telling the officer that his daughter told him to “mind his own business.”
“She didn’t have any reaction that I can remember, but it’s been three years …” he said. “I don’t remember having that conversation with Sara.”
Lind asked if seeing the transcript would refresh his memory.
“Bring it on,” Krueger replied.
Although he seemed defensive of his daughter, Krueger admitted that when mid-January came, he had suspicions that she was using drugs. He confronted her via a text message on Jan. 9, 2014.
“I was upset that Sara did not enroll in school,” he said. “She’s a very bright young lady.”
Lind asked John Krueger if his daughter had a “phase of acting out” while growing up.
“I don’t know what you mean by acting out,” Krueger answered.
Lind then asked about abuse in the home and whether he had ever hit Sara Krueger. John Krueger said that he had once given his daughter a “slight tap on the knee” but he never abused her.
“Did you ever threaten her that there was a carload of Mexicans waiting to assault her?” Lind asked.
“No,” Krueger answered emphatically.
McEntee’s private investigator, David McGraw, also testified. Jurors were dismissed by noon.
The trial is scheduled to continue on Tuesday.