Trial continues in death of Howard High student

 Wilmington Police positioned outside Howard High School last April following the death of a student following a fight. (File/WHYY)

Wilmington Police positioned outside Howard High School last April following the death of a student following a fight. (File/WHYY)

The trial for three girls involved in a fatal altercation continued in Wilmington on Tuesday.

Delaware’s chief medical examiner and Howard High School staff testified in court Tuesday for the second day of a trial for three girls charged in a school bathroom fight that led to the death of a student.

Last year, Amy Joyner-Francis, 16, died following a fight at Howard High School in Wilmington. Video evidence of the incident shows Joyner-Francis was dragged into the bathroom’s wheelchair accessible stall, hit repeatedly and kicked in the head.

The 17-year-old alleged attacker is charged with criminally negligent homicide. Last year, Family Court Judge Robert Coonin, who is presiding over the non-jury trial, ruled she be tried as a juvenile, subject to supervision until age 19. Had she been convicted as an adult, she would have faced up to eight years in prison.

The two other girls are charged with conspiracy for allegedly helping plan the fight.

Prosecutors in the case say the three girls carefully planned out the attack on an unsuspecting Joyner-Francis. During the first day of trial, prosecutors brought in witnesses who testified there was a misunderstanding between the alleged attacker and the victim.

They say the day before the attack, Joyner-Francis tried to resolve the situation, but that one of the defendants posted on Snapchat that the alleged assailant was “bouta fight her,” followed by laughing emojis.

The following day, Joyner-Francis was followed into the bathroom by the three defendants, and about two dozen onlookers. Following the attack, the three defendants left together, allegedly laughing and smiling.

During witness testimonies on Tuesday, prosecutors also showed a floor plan of the school to demonstrate that the three defendants actively sought out an attack, indicating that even though there was a bathroom closer to their classrooms, they traveled quite a distance to reach the bathroom near the victim’s class.

Witnesses also have testified that Joyner-Francis said she was “snuck,” meaning she was not expecting an attack.

Defense attorneys argue the girls do not have the maturity to understand the consequences of such an altercation, and could have in no way have anticipated the attack would be fatal.

An autopsy showed Joyner-Francis had a heart condition, and died of sudden cardiac arrest due to the physical and emotional stress of the attack.

Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Adrienne Sekula-Perlman, one of Tuesday’s witnesses, testified on her cause of death report. She said while her heart had been abnormal since birth, it wouldn’t have failed her if it weren’t for the attack.

“People don’t usually die from this [heart condition]. It probably wouldn’t have manifested until adulthood,” Sekula-Perlman said.

She said her body naturally went into “fight or flight” mode because she sensed danger, and her body could not withstand the extra stress placed on her. Sekula-Perlman stated if it weren’t for the altercation, “she would probably still be alive.”

During the testimony she also discussed several bruises and lacerations on Joyner-Francis’ body, as well as a broken finger and finger nails that had been ripped off.

Prosecutors also called on a few school staff members to testify in court, including the school nurse who rendered aid until paramedics arrived.

The nurse detailed how said she saw Joyner-Francis on the floor of the bathroom, holding onto her abdomen. She said when she tried to ask where she was in pain, Joyner-Francis was unable to talk and could only moan in agony. The nurse said she went in and out of consciousness and eventually stopped breathing. She said she administered CPR, and when she lost a pulse she attempted to use an automated external defibrillator.

Prosecutors also tried to bring Joyner-Francis’ disciplinary records into evidence that also identifies her as a victim of bullying. However, defense attorneys objected because their client has not been charged with bullying. Judge Coonin sustained the objection, stating the identification logged in at school has no “value.”

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