Teacher Acquitted in Beating Death of 5-Year-Old
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) _ A church school teacher has been found innocent of first-degree murder in the death of a 5-year-old girl killed by repeated blows to her stomach.
The family of Amanda Hersey denounced the verdict clearing Kevin Allen Pfeifer, 28, administrator of the First Christian School in St. Cloud.
Others applauded the jury’s decision. Some witnesses had testified during the trial that they suspected the girl’s parents of abusing her, allegations the family denied.
Despite the verdict, Osceola Circuit Judge Rom Powell told church members in the courtroom Thursday night that they should reconsider the school’s policy of spanking young children.
″We will probably never know beyond a reasonable doubt who or what killed Amanda Hersey,″ he said.
The Rev. Leroy Boldon said he did not know if the paddling policy would be dropped. ″He (the judge) is entitled to his opinion,″ Boldon said.
Pfeifer slipped out the side door of the courtroom to avoid reporters.
Amanda, a student of Pfeifer’s, died Feb. 15. An autopsy showed the child received several blows to her stomach with a blunt instrument that ripped her intestines, causing her to bleed to death.
Two of Amanda’s classmates testified that Pfeifer would take the girl into the nursery and spank her.
Pfeifer steadfastly denied striking Amanda the day of her death and Wednesday told jurors he suspected the girl’s parents, Linda and Frank Hersey, of child abuse. Some of the 44 witnesses in the trial also said they suspected the Herseys of battering Amanda.
Mrs. Hersey’s father, Lawrence Smith, denied the allegations and said he and family members felt their reputations had been smeared.
″I feel there’s been a lot of lies told,″ Smith said.
Charles Willits, representing Pfeifer, said his client was ″very happy to be back in this community without the stigma, and to be able to enjoy Christmas.″
A key issue was the autopsy report, which said Amanda had been hit in the stomach sometime between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. the day she died.
Willits argued that pathologist Shashi Gore ″jumped too fast″ when he reached his conclusions. Defense witnesses included three other pathologists who said it was likely that Amanda received her injuries at least a day before her death.