Girl allegedly beaten by stepdad can now walk after suffering catastrophic brain injury, judge told

A child whose stepfather is accused of nearly beating her to death has made progress and is no longer confined to a wheelchair despite facing a lifelong disability, a Calgary judge has been told.

Tyler Laberge’s aggravated assault trial will go two weeks longer than originally planned.

CBC News is calling the child victim Hannah in order to protect her privacy. Hannah’s mother was set to testify this week but will now not be called as a witness until September.

At the time of Laberge’s arrest in January 2019, about nine months after the girl was injured, police said Hannah was confined to a wheelchair, did not have full use of the left side of her body and had difficulty with cognition and speech.

Laberge was caring for the girl in March 2018 when she suffered what police have described as “life-altering injuries.”

Crown witness Dr. Jennifer McPherson told provincial court Judge Terry Semenuk that Hannah has made progress in the past two years and has relearned how to walk in rehab.

McPherson is a child abuse expert and one of a team of doctors who treated Hannah at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, where the child underwent brain surgery for a subdural hematoma on the day she was admitted.

“We did not think [Hannah] would survive that night,” said McPherson.

Hannah fell in bathtub, said Laberge

Laberge told his wife and police that on March 11, 2018, he was with his own infant while Hannah was in the bath.

In an interview with Calgary Det. Amy Drinkle, the father said he heard a loud thump and when he called out, there was no response. Laberge said he found Hannah face down in the tub.

Laberge said he performed CPR on Hannah.

Hannah had a history of getting injured and bruised easily, Laberge told Drinkle.

Defence lawyers Matt Deshaye and Yoav Niv are challenging the admissibility of their client’s statement to police. 

Doctor didn’t believe Laberge’s story 

Pathologist Dr. Matthew Orde testified Hannah appears to have suffered multiple blows to the head, which would not be consistent with a fall in a bathtub.

Orde there was a goose egg on the left side of Hannah’s head and many injuries to the right side of her face.

In his written report, Orde also noted Hannah’s hair was not wet when she arrived at hospital.

Orde wrote in his report that “the lack of any plausible explanation” for Hannah’s injuries that did not fit the story told by her stepfather and mother was “deeply concerning.”

To explain the multiple bruises and injuries to Hannah’s face and head, defence lawyers have suggested Hannah could have fallen in the tub, gotten up and fallen again. They also suggested Hannah could have suffered further bruising when she was dragged out of the bathtub.

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