JOSHUA TREE - Opening statements in a murder trial this week revealed a complex relationship between the parents of a Twentynine Palms toddler and the man accused of causing her death, 23-year-old Joshua Alan Kruzik.
Audrey Allen, 19 months old, died from extensive head injuries on Nov. 20, 2010, after she was left alone for several hours with Kruzik. Kruzik, a Marine who was training in Twentynine Palms at the time, is charged with murder and assault on a child causing death.
Deputy District Attorney Lisa Muscari gave jurors a grim summary of events prosecutors say led to Audrey's cardiac arrest at Loma Linda University Medical Center.
"Nineteen-month-old Audrey Allen. She's asleep in her crib. Her dad put her to sleep that night …. She wakes up. She won't stop crying … so the defendant picks her up and beats her across the face, but she won't stop crying … he beat her into unconsciousness," Muscari said. "He puts her there to die while her brain swells up inside of her head."
Kruzik's defense attorney, David Cohn, told jurors that he would not deny the evidence that blunt-force trauma to Audrey's head led to her death, but argued a murder charge is not appropriate for the circumstances.
"He didn't have the mental state that is necessary for this charge," Cohn said. "I feel that once you hear the evidence, you will find that Mr. Kruzik is not guilty of the crimes he's being charged with."
Suspect tried to get baby to wake up
Kruzik sat quietly in Joshua Tree Superior Court Monday until Timothy Allen, father to the deceased toddler, was called to testify. As Allen entered to take the witness stand, Kruzik began sobbing silently.
Defense and prosecution attorneys questioned Allen and his ex-wife, Melissa Marnell, who were still married and stationed at the Twentynine Palms Marine base when their daughter died.
On the evening of Nov. 19, 2010, Timothy and Melissa Allen left their home in Twentynine Palms so Melissa could get a tattoo. They asked Kruzik to keep an eye on Audrey, who was asleep in her crib.
Kruzik had just finished a training assignment at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. He was staying with the Allens for the weekend and was set to fly back to his home base in North Carolina two days later.
At some point in the night, attorneys said, Audrey woke up and began crying. Kruzik admitted to sheriff's investigators after two interviews that he struck the toddler several times, in an effort to get her to stop crying.
The prosecuting attorney said Kruzik panicked when Audrey lost consciousness from the blows. He put frozen food items on her to wake her up and covered her mouth in an attempt to jolt her awake. Eventually, he left her in her crib and fell asleep in another room.
The Allens returned home later that evening to find Kruzik sleeping in their bed. Allen said he escorted Kruzik to the couch and listened for sounds in Audrey's room. Not hearing any, he went to bed.
It wasn't until 10 a.m. the next day that Allen walked into his daughter's room to check on her and found her unconscious.
He immediately yelled for Kruzik to call 911. Jurors listened to a nine-minute 911 phone call, in which Kruzik performed CPR on Audrey while an audibly distraught Allen relayed instructions from a dispatcher. Allen broke down in the courtroom while the recording was played.
Audrey was transported to Hi-Desert Medical Center before being taken by helicopter to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where she later died from her head injuries.
A paramedic and an emergency medical technician who were dispatched to the scene the day of the event both testified that Audrey was not breathing when they arrived.
Morongo Basin Ambulance EMT Linda Bosch said Tuesday in court that Audrey was discolored when emergency responders arrived.
"She looked really gray ash in color, non-responsive," Bosch said.
Testimony: Kruzik used steroids
Allen and Marnell revealed on the stand that Kruzik was drinking heavily with friends at a local bar before he showed up at the Allens' house to baby sit Audrey on Nov. 19. Both parents also revealed that Marnell had an affair with Kruzik for about four months during her marriage to Allen.
Jurors also learned that Kruzik used steroids and was trying to ween himself off the drugs around the time of the incident. Marnell said Tuesday that she sometimes helped Kruzik inject them.
Allen said he was aware that Kruzik had used steroids.
"I was told that he was using them, but I never witnessed it myself," Allen said.
"Melissa and Tim trusted Mr. Kruzik. They liked Mr. Kruzik," defense attorney Cohn told jurors.
During Marnell's testimony, she revealed that she kept syringes in her bathroom for Kruzik to use while the two were involved.
Kruzik and Marnell ended their affair about two months prior to Kruzik's weekend stay in November. It wasn't until the day of Audrey's death that Marnell told her husband about the affair.
Baby Audrey liked Kruzik, mom says
Marnell referred to her daughter as "a very happy baby."
"She was very bubbly and curious," Marnell said.
She became tearful as she recalled her daughter's demeanor the night before her death. "She was probably the happiest I had seen her … I could tell that she was just really happy to have both her parents there with her."
Both Allen and Marnell said they were left with many unanswered questions after their daughter's death. In separate testimonies, Marnell and Allen both said they did not immediately suspect Kruzik of any wrongdoing.
Allen told attorneys that Kruzik had baby sat Audrey at least one time prior to Nov. 19 and he was good with their daughter.
"She liked him a lot. He was very outgoing and very good with her. I had no reason to distrust him," Allen said.
When asked by Muscari whether she asked Kruzik about her daughter's bruises after learning of her injuries, Marnell recalled a conversation she had with Kruzik at the hospital.
"He just said, 'Maybe when I leave, your bad luck will go away.'"