‘Police mistook his split lip for a cleft palate’


The jury trial of a woman charged with child abuse over the death of a 3-year-old boy began yesterday with a jury selection and a dramatic opening statement from prosecuting lawyer Coleen St. Clair, who said Stacey Lani Laniyo punched the child in the mouth so hard that it split his lip, causing the police to mistake it for a cleft palate.

Laniyo, 37, one of two women facing charges over the child’s death, faced a jury of eight yesterday. The boy was allegedly found with multiple injuries as a result of severe beatings. Laniyo’s co-defendant in the case is Lynn Fitial, who is the child’s legal guardian.

The prosecution, led by St. Clair, gave their opening statements, telling the jury that they will hear testimonies from witnesses within the household that saw first-hand the abuse that eventually led to the death of the child.

“Today you will hear how Laniyo hit [the child] with a branch for defecating himself. She hosed him down then hit him with a branch. Three days before his death, Laniyo forced him to do pushup. His wheezing and gagging could be heard from outside Laniyo’s bedroom while he counted his pushups,” she said.

“Witnesses at home will say that they saw Laniyo punch [the child] in the mouth causing his [injured] lip that police had mistaken for a cleft palate. They’ll tell you how Laniyo locked him in the room for days at a time and he would emerge with new injuries,” she added.

The prosecution will also call to the stand expert witnesses from the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. who responded and conducted the autopsy on the child.

During the first day of trial yesterday, St. Clair called to the stand Department of Public Safety’s Mary Luis Tanaka, who was the lead investigator of the case. Tanaka identified photos she had taken of the child at CHC that allegedly showed scars, scratches, and bruises that indicated child abuse. The photos were admitted as evidence.

The trial will continue today with the prosecution set to call Fitial to the stand.

According to Saipan Tribune archives, the alleged abuse happened last March 12 when Laniyo allegedly hit the child with a tree branch, a broom, or her hand or by biting him.

Laniyo, Fitial’s partner, told police that the child was without fear and was very naughty.

Laniyo admitted she had spanked him with a tree branch to discipline him because he was naughty.

Fitial is accused of failing to provide medical care for the child, resulting in his death. Fitial told police that the boy had been ill and was given ibuprofen, which he vomited, before he was observed to have stiffened.

Dr. Philip Dauterman stated that the cause of death was obstruction of the airway due to pharyngitis and tracheitis, contributed by peritonitis due to gastroenteritis.

The pathologist said the boy’s symptoms, which would have been vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, fever, and sore throat, would have been obvious to any reasonable parent or guardian and a cause for concern.

Dauterman said the child was effectively dead when he was brought to the hospital’s ER.

Kimberly B. Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Albiso Bautista has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at kimberly_bautista@saipantribune.com.

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