Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 23, 2012

Trial for abuse case now under way

Kokomo man accused of hurting stepdaughter

By Scott Smith

— A jury trial is underway for Kokomo resident Jeffery Dice, accused of neglect and battery in an incident which left a 19-month-old badly burned.

Dice maintains he accidentally splashed water from a pan on a stove onto his stepdaughter.

But child abuse investigators say the burn marks on the child aren’t consistent with that story, and the investigators told police they believe the child was immersed.

Jurors seated Tuesday heard from an investigator with the Indiana Department of Child Services, the mother of the now 2-year-old victim, and the child’s maternal grandmother.

Dice, seated next to his attorney, David Rosselot, stared straight ahead during most of Tuesday’s testimony and didn’t speak.

He faces two Class B felony charges, battery on a child less than 14 years of age causing serious bodily injury, and neglect of a dependent causing serious bodily injury. A conviction on either charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

Dice rejected a plea deal prosecutors offered, which would have required him to admit to the allegations in return for a conviction on a Class D felony, punishable by up to two years in prison.

Tuesday, Howard County Prosecutor Mark McCann called the case “very, very disturbing,” and said the child’s injuries were “horrendous.”

The child suffered burns to the left hand, left foot, lips and cheek.

“The injuries [the child] received were intentional. They were not accidental. They were immersion burns, they were not caused by a spill. There were no flow patterns on the child’s body,” McCann told the jury.

Rosselot told the jury Dice has been consistent in his statements, and police and prosecutors are unfairly faulting him for a perceived lack of detail.

“That would involve him lying, embellishing and making stuff up to pacify these people,” Rosselot said. “He’s been honest and cooperative.”

The child’s mother, Tara Dice, said she and Jeffery were married April 29, 2011, less than a week before the May 5 incident.

Witnesses disagreed whether or not Jeffery had cared for the child for an extended period of time by himself, prior to the incident. Tara Dice said he had; her mother, Madona Smyser, said she didn’t believe he had.

The state DCS investigator assigned to the case, Brittany Renkenberger, said Tara Dice had admitted to investigators Jeffery hadn’t watched the child by himself, prior to the incident.

McCann also showed testimony Tara Dice gave to investigators shortly after the incident, indicating she’d coached Jeffery on how to care for an infant, because he didn’t have any experience.

While Tara Dice said her husband had been consistent in his version of events, her mother — who admitted to disliking Jeffery Dice in response to a Rosselot question — said he’d changed his story.

Smyser said when she first questioned Dice, he said he didn’t know what happened.

Later, she said he claimed the pan he was using to heat up water for noodles “just popped,” causing him to jump and knock the pan off the stove, splashing the child, who had come into the kitchen.

In another version, she said he’d claimed hot water had hit him on the chest, causing him to knock the pan off the stove. She said doctors had asked him to lift up his shirt, to see if he’d been burned.

She said he’d also been inconsistent on where he said the child was when the water splashed.

The defense will have a chance to call witnesses after the prosecution rests; the trial is expected to run through Thursday.

Renkenberger said the child was removed from the home after the incident, and placed with Smyser, where she remains. Tara and Jeffery Dice had their first child together two months ago, and the child is staying with the parents.

Scott Smith can be reached at (765) 454-8569 or at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com