Jayde Poole, centre, arrives at court. Photo: Bendigo Advertiser
When Jayde Poole left her five-month-old daughter in the car on a hot day, where the infant died from heatstroke, her brain could have tricked her into believing the baby was safe and asleep in her cot, a court has heard.
Giving evidence via videolink from the US as a defence witness, neuroscientist Professor David Diamond, an expert on memory from the University of South Florida, told a Supreme Court jury on Wednesday that the case was similar to a phenomenon known as ‘‘forgotten baby syndrome’’.
Professor Diamond said 200 children had died worldwide over the past 15 years from the phenomenon after being left behind in cars.
Ms Poole, 29, a single mother of three, has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter over the death of her baby daughter Bella in December 2012.
Crown prosecutor Nicholas Papas, QC, had told the jury sitting in Bendigo that Ms Poole was guilty of “gross negligence” and a breach of her duty of care as a parent by leaving Bella in the car on a 30 degree day, and failing to check on her for two hours.
Ms Poole had returned home with Bella and her six-year-old son after driving a short distance to Hungry Jack’s to buy some takeaway food, but left Bella in the car.
She later told police she thought she had left Bella in her cot before driving to Hungry Jack’s.
Defence barrister Shane Gardner said Ms Poole accepted moral responsibility for Bella’s death but was not criminally negligent.
Professor Diamond told the court the short drive to and from Hungry Jack’s was one Ms Poole had done many times before so her dominant brain system, known as basal ganglia, would have put her in auto-pilot mode.
The court heard that what had changed on Thursday night, December 11, 2012, was that Bella was in the car on the drove to Hungry Jack’s, and that the six-year-old was sitting in the front seat for the first time - he would usually sit in the back seat.
‘‘That particular evening was actually very complex, because the normal routine for Jayde would have been to have had Bella asleep that night,’’ Professor Diamond said.
‘‘I would speculate that at one level her brain is processing this information that at that time of the night, Bella should be in her bedroom sleeping ... A second level that complicates this is that for the first time, as I understand it, [the six-year-old] is now sitting in the front seat.
‘‘It makes it a very different situation and so Jayde's attention is focused on [her son], and so you, in a sense, have competing memories of 'Bella should be home in her bedroom, [the six-year-old] is in the front seat.'’’
Professor Diamond said what seemed to be happening was ‘‘the brain actually creates an alternative reality that the child must be safe, and so in many cases where parents are supposed to bring their children, for example, to day care, the parent believes the child must be safe in the day care’’.
‘‘In the current case what is very clear is that Jayde believed that Bella was safe and sleeping in her bedroom, and so the brain has created in a sense a reality to fill in the memory gap.’’
Professor Diamond said because Bella was very quiet during the trip to and from Hungry Jack’s there was nothing to remind Ms Poole that the baby was in the car.
He said another factor was that Ms Poole had had a poor night’s sleep the previous night.
Cross-examined by Mr Papas, Professor Diamond agreed this case was unique because the six-year-old boy had been in the car when Bella was left behind.
In cases of "forgotten baby syndrome", the driver was alone or a passenger had left before they arrived at their destination.
The trial, before Justice Bernard Bongiorno, continues.