The Accident

On September 24th, 2008, Jocelynn Renee Allison, just 15 months old, tumbled down a flight of stairs in her home, and struck her head against a wooden dining room chair that had been placed on the landing near the front door. It was there to hold a large, heavy file drawer of important papers during the time her family was still getting settled into their newly purchased home. (Jocelynn’s family had only lived in the home for 1 month, and the stairs were a new challenge, as Jocelynn had previously lived in a single-story apartment all of her life.) Because the wooden chair on the landing was so close to the door, it tended to collect other items people came through the door with like hats and coats, but predominantly was weighted down by the file box when Jocelynn struck it. Jocelynn died late that evening during emergency neurosurgery at a local hospital.

At the time of the accident, she was in the care of her father, Clayton, who was doing physical therapy with her in the living room of their home. Exercises included play activities to get her to try to use and improve her balance, and strengthen her core and leg muscles. Clayton enjoyed finding fun ways to get her to crawl farther, pull herself up on furniture to reach things, and try to balance, and she had recently been making a lot of improvements.

Responding to a sudden awful urge to use the toilet, and then to the clog that immediately followed, he was unaware that, in that brief time in which he was distracted, Jocelynn was making her way over to the stairway. When he heard her tumble and cry out, he immediately ran down to the landing and found her crying, face down, with her head against the wooden leg of the dining room chair. He quickly picked her up and carried her upstairs to comfort her and check her for injuries. She seemed to be calming at first, then suddenly, her breathing changed.

  • At the hospital later, Clayton, shocked and disoriented, told a police officer what had happened. As he tried to grapple with what was happening, he described to her in great detail how much he loved to play with Jocelynn, and how he was playing and doing “physical therapy” with her right before he had to suddenly and urgently go to the bathroom.
  • At trial, these events came close to never being told to the jury, because according to Alaska law, Clayton’s statements would be deemed “hearsay.” The jury was told that Jocelynn fell down the stairs. However, they were not told that she hit her head against a chair, except for in a single sentence in the last week of a 5-week trial, when the baby’s maternal grandmother (who did not know that they didn’t already know) testified about what she had been told about the accident on the way to the hospital by her husband whom Clayton had called.

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