Jurors consider fate of foster father in infant death trial

By From page A3 | July 25, 2014

Reginald Tanubagijo was convicted of killing a 3-month-old boy in his care in Suisun City. (Brad Zweerink/Daily Republic file 2010)

Reginald Tanubagijo was convicted of killing a 3-month-old boy in his care in Suisun City. (Brad Zweerink/Daily Republic file 2010)

FAIRFIELD — Jurors began Thursday to weigh the fate of a 57-year-old foster father who faces a murder charge for the 2010 death of a 3-month-old baby in his care.

Reginald Tanubagijo has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and felony child abuse causing death. Both crimes carry life sentences if he is found guilty of either offense. Jurors also have the option of finding him guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Before brief deliberations got underway, jurors spent much of the day listening to the prosecutor, Robert Hightower, and Tanubagijo’s defense attorney, Jaye Ryan, present their closing arguments.

Each attorney frequently interrupted the other’s presentations to jurors with objections. Judge Robert Bowers almost always sustained Hightower’s many objections while, conversely, almost always overruled Ryan’s objections.

Hightower relied on the severity of the baby’s brain injuries discovered by doctors in the hours after the baby was rushed to the hospital after Tanubagijo claimed the baby stopped breathing after starting to choke while suckling from a bottle.

“This is not an accident. Something had to cause this baby to die,” Hightower told jurors about what he believes happened on the night of Nov. 29, 2010.

Hightower also relied heavily on Tanubagijo not telling paramedics at his house, doctors at the hospital or authorities about the baby falling from a kitchen table until after being confronted with the severity of the baby’s head injuries. Hightower wrapped up his closing argument by reminding jurors that the previous day Tanubagijo testified he did not tell doctors about the fall because “nobody asked me.”

“Guilty people put themselves above saving the life of a child,” Hightower said.

Ryan told jurors her client was not a perfect man but that he is a good man and that people react differently to sudden crisis and emergencies. Some people take action while some people freeze.

“Omission of a fact does not make it a murder,” Ryan said of the fact that Tanubagijo did not tell authorities for nearly a day about the baby falling and hitting his head.

Ryan told jurors the prosecution case lacked a motive for why Tanubagijo, a longtime government clerk who had no history of outbursts or anger and who had previously cared for five other foster children with his wife, would abruptly inflict blunt force trauma injuries on the baby. Ryan said the prosecutor’s claim that her client learned the baby was going to be returned to the birth parent’s family spurred a violent, deadly outburst was “ludicrous.”

Both attorneys also relied on their respective expert medical witnesses, who took opposing perspectives on the meaning of the medical and autopsy records. Ryan’s doctors labeled the cause of death accidental while Hightower’s doctors said the baby’s death was criminal.

Closing arguments came after three weeks of prosecution and defense testimony. Jurors are set to resume their deliberations Monday.

Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.

Jess Sullivan

Jess has covered the criminal justice system in Solano County for several years. He was an embedded reporter in Iraq in 2003.

Discussion | 2 comments

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  • 2realJuly 25, 2014 - 5:49 am

    Freeze? Defense attorneys will say anything to make a buck.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • gemmaJuly 25, 2014 - 4:21 pm

    I don't care if they come up with a motive or not. A baby is dead. The fact that the killer has "never had a violent outburst" doesn't mean he didn't harm that innocent child.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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