A Madison man was found guilty of first-degree reckless homicide Thursday for the death last year of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter, bringing to a close a two-week trial in which experts clashed over whether the girl died from child abuse or from blood clots that occurred from medical problems.
Joshua Gehde, 27, slumped forward in his chair and wept as Dane County Circuit Judge Stephen Ehlke read the verdict, reached after five hours of deliberation by a jury of four men and eight women. When Ehlke read the verdict, a gasp went up in the courtroom that quickly turned to muted sobs, many from family members of Sophia Huff, who died two days after Gehde said he found the girl unresponsive on the floor of their apartment living room.
Gehde, who is currently serving a four-year prison sentence after his probation for an unrelated crime was revoked, faces up to 60 years of combined prison and extended supervision when he is sentenced in about two months following a pre-sentence investigation by the state Department of Corrections.
Gehde testified in his own defense on Wednesday, telling the jury that he did not hurt Sophia on April 12, 2016, after the two of them had gotten up, had breakfast, went to a park near Gehde’s apartment on Onsgard Road, then to a convenience store. The girl’s mother, Kyra Lynch, had gone to work.
“It hurts me very much, the state accusing me of something I didn’t do,” Gehde said on the stand. “I still feel like I’m being attacked.”
Gehde was defiant during an aggressive cross examination by Deputy District Attorney Matthew Moeser, answering repeatedly “I didn’t hurt Sophia” to questions that Moeser put to him.
During the cross examination and during his closing argument on Thursday, Moeser questioned the timeline that Gehde had set out for events that morning, before calling 911 to report that Sophia was unconscious and not breathing.
Using the times provided by Gehde’s cellphone activity, which included calls, texts and photos, Moeser said that the morning didn’t happen the way Gehde had claimed. He said it was doubtful at best, for example, that Gehde had even taken Sophia to Reindahl Park for what he said was about an hour.
At a time when Gehde texted Lynch that they were headed to the park, Moeser said, Gehde and Sophia were just minutes from being on camera at the nearby PDQ convenience store, where Gehde had said they had gone after being at the park.
Moeser also said that the phone records show that Gehde wasted valuable minutes between calling Lynch to say something was wrong with Sophia and the time he called 911 to get help.
Moeser questioned how Sophia accumulated 37 bruises on her body, only some of which could be explained by known events, including 10 on her head.
“He has never explained Sophia’s injuries because he doesn’t want to,” Moeser said.
Already comatose, Sophia was taken to UW Hospital, where medical scans found bleeding on her brain, which began to swell.
Experts presented by Gehde’s lawyers, public defenders Kathleen Pakes and Vincent Rust, said that she had naturally occurring blood clots in her head which led to seizures and a cascade of medical problems that led to her death, and had not been the victim of abusive head trauma, as prosecution experts said.
One suggested choking on crackers, depriving her body of oxygen, might have been the catalyst for the injuries to her brain.
“This is not a stressed-out caretaker that snapped and beat her to death,” Pakes told the jury during her closing argument.
But Moeser said that the defense experts’ opinions rested on “junk courtroom science” from which they earned a living.
“Send a message to sham doctors and sham science that you won’t be fooled,” Moeser urged the jury.