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Court papers shed new light on baby's death

Sunday News Correspondent

March 18. 2017 10:59PM

Shawn Sylvester 

ALEXANDRIA - Recently filed court documents in the case of the 2015 murder of 11-month-old Shawn Sylvester reveal that his mother left the baby in the care of her boyfriend for several hours and returned to find her son unresponsive, lying face down in a pool of vomit.

The documents, filed in Grafton County Superior Court, state that when the tot's mother, Danielle Sylvester, returned to the 133 Fowler River Road home she shared with her then-boyfriend Tommy Page, the baby was in bed in physical distress.

Page, 30, was indicted last April on alternate counts of first- and second-degree murder and manslaughter, after an autopsy determined that blunt-impact head trauma was the cause of the baby's death. He is being held without bail in Grafton County Jail.

Sylvester told investigators that she had left the baby with Page at about 1 p.m. on Nov. 13, 2015, so that she could go to a doctor's appointment. After she returned home to find Shawn unresponsive, she called 911 for help. When emergency medical personnel arrived, they found the baby unconscious, with visible bruising to his face and head, according to court documents. Due to the severity of his injuries, he was flown by helicopter to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, where he died two days later.

Doctors suspected abuse

Doctors documented extensive bruising to Shawn's face, head and ears, along with multiple skull fractures resulting in severe swelling of the brain. One physician said that the injuries would have been sustained within hours of his arrival at the hospital.

During the course of their treatment, medical staff also observed that the baby's genitals were irritated and bruised, signs consistent with possible sexual abuse. An initial toxicology screening also discovered buprenorphine, an opiate, in his urine, according to court documents.

Sylvester told authorities that Page had a prescription for Suboxone, which contains buprenorphine, and that her son had no signs of any injuries when she left him in Page's care.

After her son was med-flighted to DHMC, she said, Page had told her, "I feel bad that this happened while I was watching him," and expressed his belief that he was going to get in trouble for what had happened to the baby, according to court documents.

Motion to suppress

In a recently released motion to suppress evidence from Page's cellphone, public defender James Brooks of Orford argued that the language in the police affidavit seeking a search warrant for Page's phone is overly broad, essentially giving police unfettered access to all data on the cellphone, while they had probable cause only to examine text messages exchanged between Page and the boy's mother.

A six-hour hearing on the motion to suppress is scheduled in Grafton County Superior Court on April 18.

According to Sylvester, she had communicated with Page through text messages about the boy's condition and what may have happened to him.

Page acknowledged he had texted Sylvester after the incident and initially gave police permission to search his Samsung Galaxy cellphone, but later rescinded that consent and asked for his phone back.

Sgt. John Sonia of the New Hampshire State Police subsequently applied for a search warrant, seeking court permission for an expansive search, including "text message content whether saved or deleted, as far back as possible; photographs and/or video images whether saved or deleted, for as far back as possible; contact information; call history and detail; and voice mail messages, whether saved or deleted."

Judge Thomas Rappa Jr. of the 2nd Circuit Court in Plymouth granted Sonia's request. Criminalist Matthew Pickering of the state police forensic laboratory recovered 24 photographs from the phone, among other items.

In announcing Page's arrest on 23 counts of possession of child sexual abuse images on Nov. 19, six days after Shawn's death, State Police disclosed that the images depicted "an infant male child engaging in sexually explicit conduct."

Those charges have since been dropped.

Current charges against Page allege he killed the baby boy by applying crushing force to his head before, after or while sexually assaulting him; or, in the alternative, recklessly caused his death under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life.

The manslaughter count alleges Page manifested exceptional cruelty or depravity by sexually abusing the boy with an object before his death and by giving the boy Suboxone, a controlled drug, and not immediately seeking attention for the injuries that led to his death.

Page also has been charged with falsifying physical evidence and administering a controlled drug.

Allegations of depravity

The state has filed notice that it intends to seek an extended term of imprisonment against Page, based on the allegations of depravity and the victim's young age.

When Page was initially questioned about the boy's injuries, he gave several different explanations, according to the court documents. First, he said the boy had struck his head on the headboard while he was holding him and attempting to dress him. Page then told investigators, according to the documents, the child hit his head on the faucet while he was bathing him. When investigators told Page neither scenario accounted for the baby's physical injuries, Page said he had fallen asleep and the baby had fallen down a flight of stairs while unattended.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley and Assistant Attorney General Geoff Ward are prosecuting the case.

As the police affidavit that is the subject of the motion to suppress remains sealed, the parties asked a judge to also order the motion to be shielded from public view. Judge Lawrence Mac-Leod Jr. ordered on Feb. 28 that, while the affidavit and search warrant are to remain sealed, the contents of the motion is open to public view.

Brooks asserts that Sonia's affidavit offered no basis to believe that photographs or video images were connected with the concern at hand. "In fact, the narrative portion of Sonia's affidavit did not even mention those two categories of data," he wrote in court documents.

Brooks contends that the warrant was both overly broad and lacking in sufficient detail, and maintains that a judge should bar all evidence taken from the phone from being used at trial under a legal doctrine called the "fruit of the poisonous tree." That doctrine holds that evidence gathered through illegally obtained information must be excluded from trial.

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