A man accused of sexually assaulting and killing 13-month-old Meilani Hart last summer at a Portage apartment will now stand trial.
27-year-old Jacob Britton Emmendorfer is charged with homicide, child abuse and first-degree criminal sexual assault related to the child’s death. Emmendorfer’s case was bound over to Kalamazoo County Circuit Court on Wednesday, February 17 by Kalamazoo County District Judge Richard Santoni.
“I’m not sure many human beings can look at exhibit number four and come away unchanged,” Santoni said, referencing a photo of the child’s injuries introduced as evidence at the hearing. “Unspeakable things happened to this child. … This was not an accident.”
Over the course of a four-hour preliminary hearing Wednesday, the judge listened to testimony from the child’s mother, Angel Hart, Portage Police Detective Derek Hess and Dr. Jared Brooks, a pathology fellow with the Western Michigan University School of Medicine — as well as arguments from Kalamazoo County Assistant Prosecutor Christin Mehrtens-Carlin and Emmendorfer’s defense attorney Randall Levine.
Levine argued prior to the start of the hearing that he needed more time to prepare for the case, partly in light of new DNA evidence received yesterday that excluded his client as the perpetrator.
Mehrtens-Carlin contested while there was DNA evidence that excluded Emmendorfer to a degree, she disagreed with Levine in terms of what that proves.
Levine, to objections from Mehrtens-Carlin, also alluded to an active case involving Angel Hart and her three older children who had been removed from her care, because the children and parents were violent.
“It’s typical dysfunction and those people just happened to be in the home on the day of the alleged offense,” Levine said to the court.
Police and fire rescue personnel responded to Hart’s Milham Meadows’ apartment at 10 p.m. on August 12, the day in question. Upon arrival, they found the child unresponsive. Meilani Hart was then transported to Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, where she was pronounced dead hours later.
Angel Hart, Emmendorfer’s ex-girlfriend, told the court the two of them got into an argument that evening, prompting her to leave the apartment. She testified that when she returned she found Emmendorfer in the room they shared, holding her unresponsive child, who she described after taking the child from him as being a “dead weight, her head hanging backwards.”
She said Emmendorfer tried to revive the child by bathing her in a sink, while she called 911.
The child, who was determined to have died as the result of multiple injuries, Brooks testified, had 26 discrete bruises inside her intestine, torn blood vessels and bruising inside her labia and anus.
“As we are all aware this is not the time to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, but that these crimes were probably committed and the defendant probably committed them,” Mehrtens-Carlin said. “The only adult in the house was the defendant.”
Levine argued that there was no evidence that Emmendorfer was the person who caused those injuries and that it was inappropriate to suggest circumstantially that all of the injuries occurred during a short period of time while Hart was not home, when Brooks stated the injuries could have occurred days prior.
“It’s easy, because the accusations are so horrific here to easily jump to the false conclusion that he’s sick and that he’s some kind of a weird sex perpetrator,” Levine said. “That is not fair. When all the evidence will become known it will become clear he did not victimize this child and the child was traumatized by someone else.”