The spanking, torture and murder of 4-year-old Aiyana Gauvin


PHOTO: John Terhune / Journal & Courier

Michelle Gauvin, Bible in hand, enters courtroom for sentencing. (Oct. 26, 2006, Tippecanoe County, Indiana)

See SENTENCING ORDER below. Warning -- This document contains a graphic, detailed discription of a child's mistreatment which some readers will find deeply disturbing.

Stepsister tells jury of Aiyana's ordeal

Journal & Courier, November 2, 2006

When Michelle Gauvin's daughter invited friends to her house south of Lafayette, they avoided the kitchen area -- where her younger stepsister, Aiyana Gauvin, was likely being restrained nearby.

She testified Wednesday afternoon in the terminal child neglect trial of her stepfather, Christian Gauvin, saying both parents in the home had beaten and tied up Aiyana on multiple occasions.

"I didn't want anybody to know she was there," she said in a soft voice. "I didn't know what they would say ... having an abused sister there."

The Journal & Courier is not naming the girl to protect her identity.

Michelle's daughter offered what could be the most compelling testimony this week -- being one of only a few people to see firsthand Aiyana being paddled with a broken cutting board, struck with a belt and strapped to plastic gates.

Aiyana died March 16, 2005, from blunt force trauma to the head.

PHOTO: By John Terhune/Journal & Courier

Christian Gauvin is escorted to Tippecanoe Superior Court 2 by transport officer Jim Weedon, foreground, and bailiff Mark Christian Wednesday for his neglect trial in the death of his 4-year-old daughter, Aiyana.

Although both adults participated, Michelle's daughter said it was Christian Gauvin's idea to tie up Aiyana as a form of punishment when the 4-year-old "was mouthing off or doing things in her diaper."

Gauvin, 35, is being tried before a LaPorte County jury of six men and eight women, among them two alternates, this week on a single count of Class A felony neglect of a dependent.

Last week, Michelle Gauvin was sentenced to life in prison without parole after she pleaded guilty in Aiyana's murder.

"At the beginning, she cried," Michelle's daughter testified about Aiyana's reaction when being tied up. "Toward the end, she didn't cry anymore. She just sat there."

Her mother and stepfather would also remove Aiyana's bedding and make her sleep in a 4-by-4 plastic pan when she acted up, the girl added.

Christian Gauvin's trial, which was held Wednesday in Tippecanoe County to accommodate local witnesses, will resume this morning in LaPorte Circuit Court. It could conclude by this evening.

Key questions for the jurors will be how much Christian Gauvin was aware of the torture that Aiyana suffered, how much he participated in it and why he failed to stop it.

His attorney, special public defender Patrick Manahan, is arguing that Aiyana and her stepmother clashed in the days just before her death.

The Tippecanoe County prosecution team of Jerry Bean and Laura Zeman contend that she'd been tortured for days, if not months, before her death.

Michelle's daughter said she first remembers seeing unusual bruises on Aiyana in September 2004. The blended family used to get along when Christian and Aiyana first moved into Michelle's home that February, she said.

Dr. Paul Mellen, the forensic pathologist who did Aiyana's autopsy, said Aiyana had a severe mix of overlapping bruises in various shades, meaning she likely had been beaten over an extended period of time.

But bruises can only be classified as having occurred in less than 24 hours or older than a day, he said.

The defense called four witnesses Wednesday, including Aiyana's Court Appointed Special Advocate during her Child in Need of Services case and the man assigned her case at the former Child Protective Services.

Both were on the treatment team that recommended that Aiyana be permanently placed with Christian Gauvin.

Karla Ross, Aiyana's CASA, said Aiyana and Christian always appeared to get along during her interactions with them.

She recalled looking at pictures Aiyana had shot with Christian's camera when the girl was 2 years old.

"He took real pride in it," Ross said, "because he thought she had real potential as a photographer."

Gauvin found guilty of felony neglect, Aiyana's father could face 20-50 years in prison

Journal & Courier, November 3, 2006

LAPORTE -- Christian Gauvin's insistence in taking the stand Thursday morning just might be what solidified in the minds of jurors his guilt for the death of his 4-year-old daughter, Aiyana.

When pressed by Tippecanoe County deputy prosecutor Laura Zeman whether he failed as a father, Gauvin looked down and sighed:

"Yes. I did."

He will now have the next 20 to 50 years in prison to think about what went wrong in the weeks leading up to Aiyana's death on March 16, 2005 -- some of which he tried to explain during 31/2 hours of testimony in LaPorte Circuit Court.

Nonetheless, the LaPorte County jury of six men and six women found Gauvin, 35, guilty of a single count of Class A felony neglect of a dependent resulting in the girl's death.

Gauvin showed no visible reaction when the verdict was read or when individual jurors were polled.

Jurors -- who deliberated for two hours Thursday night -- determined that Gauvin knew the extent to which Aiyana was being abused by her stepmother and his wife, Michelle Gauvin, and further neglected his only child by leaving Aiyana in Michelle's care.

Michelle Gauvin was sentenced last week to life in prison without parole after she pleaded guilty to murdering Aiyana, who died from a fatal blow to the head.

Christian Gauvin's attorney, special public defender Patrick Manahan, said he will discuss appealing the verdict with his client based on rulings made by presiding Judge Thomas Busch of Tippecanoe Superior Court 2.

Manahan argues that Gauvin was not fully informed of his right against self-incrimination when he agreed to talk to police the day Aiyana died. He tried to stop jurors from seeing three videotaped statements Gauvin gave to sheriff's detectives.

Busch initially suppressed one of the statements, but allowed it as state evidence on Thursday because Gauvin chose to testify in his own defense.

"He wanted to make sure, for the memory of his daughter, to state accurately what happened," Manahan said. "No one could have predicted any of this. This was just a terrible, tragic set of events."

Gauvin testified that he was intimidated by his wife, who actually seemed to enjoy fighting and bickering. He agreed that tying up Aiyana was an extreme form of punishment.

He was watching his daughter the night before she died, when Michelle took her two children out of the home for about 90 minutes.

Christian Gauvin said Michelle brought Aiyana into their bedroom while the little girl was strapped in a booster seat with both of her hands restrained and white surgical tape covering her mouth. Christian Gauvin removed Aiyana while Michelle left -- only to quickly return the girl to her prior condition when he heard them come home.

Asked by his attorney why, Gauvin responded, "I was afraid."

"I didn't think she was going to die. I didn't think things were that severe. ... She didn't look like that the night before," he said of the photos taken of his bruised and battered daughter at the morgue.

Gauvin, however, refused to look at one of the photos Zeman, the deputy prosecutor, handed to him on the stand.

"I was just a recluse and a hermit in my bedroom, playing video games with my heating pad on," Zeman mocked. "The dog got to sleep in the heated house, and you put her in the unheated garage."

Tippecanoe County prosecutor Jerry Bean, who presented the case with Zeman, said he hopes the guilty verdict brings some closure to Aiyana's family.

The verdict came the same day as the second summit aimed at stopping child abuse was held in Lafayette. Bean said several strides have been made since the community outrage caused by Aiyana's death, including more reports of neglect and sexual abuse.

"Even one is too many," he said.

Jurors also watched the previously suppressed interrogation with sheriff's Lt. Steve Kohne, in which Gauvin admitted to slapping Aiyana across the face and tying her arms across her back.

"All I want to do is sit down and cry, and I just keep fighting it," he is heard saying to himself while alone in the police interview room. "I just feel like I am going to explode."



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CASE NO. 79D02-0503-MR-1


The State of Indiana appears by Jerry Bean, Prosecuting Attorney, and Laura Zeman, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. Defendant appears in person, in custody of the Sheriff of Tippecanoe County, and by Thomas J. O’Brien, Kevin O’Reilly, and Lee Griffith, her attorneys. The defendant having entered pleas of guilty on the 15th day of September, 2006, and the Court having taken the Plea Agreement and the pleas of guilty under advisement, the Court now conducts sentencing hearing. The Court now accepts the Plea Agreement and the pleas of guilty and finds the defendant guilty of the offense of Murder, as charged in Count I; guilty of the offense of Confinement, as charged in Count IV; and guilty of Neglect of a Dependent, as charged in Count V of the Informations filed herein.

IT IS ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the defendant, Michelle Gauvin, who is a female person 34 years of age, is guilty of Murder, as charged in Count I, a felony.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the defendant is guilty of Confinement, as charged in Count IV, a Class B felony.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the defendant is guilty of Neglect of a Dependent, as charged in Count V, a Class B felony.

Under IC 35-50-2-9, before a sentence of life without parole can be imposed, the court must determine whether the State has proven the existence of one or more of the alleged aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. If so, the Court then must determine whether the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors. The alleged aggravating circumstances are (1) the victim was less than 12 years of age, (b)(10), and (2) the defendant tortured the victim while the victim was alive. (b)(11). The alleged mitigating factors are (1) the defendant has no substantial history of prior criminal conduct, (c)(1); (2) the defendant was under extreme emotional disturbance when the murder was committed, (c)(2); (3) the defendant was an accomplice in a murder committed by another person and the defendant’s participation was relatively minor, (c)(4); (4) the defendant acted under the substantial domination of another person, (c)(5); (5) the defendant’s borderline personality disorder diminished defendant’s capacity to control her actions, (6) the defendant was the loving mother of two exemplary children, and (7) the violence of the incident was aberrational.

I. Aggravation.

There is no dispute that Aiyana Gauvin was only four-years old. For the reasons which follow, the court concludes that Aiyana was tortured while she was alive.

On or about March 16, 2005, four-year-old Aiyana Gauvin was murdered. The coroner determined that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head, causing a sub-dural hematoma and optic nerve hemorrhage. Both her father, Christian Gauvin, and her stepmother, the defendant Michelle Gauvin, initially gave incredible reports of the circumstances of her death. Christian reported that Aiyana was awake and alert when he left for work. Michelle reported that nothing appeared amiss when she put Aiyana to bed at night and that she first noticed her unresponsive in the morning when she returned from driving Christian to work. Because both parents were demonstrably untruthful, the true facts must be found from other sources.

Aiyana Gauvin was born December 12, 2000, to Cassandra Robinson Gauvin and Christian Gauvin. Cassandra had two older children from prior relationships. Cassandra and Christian soon divorced. Thereafter, Cassandra’s three children were taken from her and became wards of the State in a CHINS proceeding. At that time, Aiyana was 2-1/2. All three children were placed with Cassandra’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Robinson, during the CHINS proceeding. Cassandra was unable to achieve the stability necessary for reunification. Ultimately, the Juvenile Court placed Aiyana Gauvin permanently with Christian and closed the CHINS case in March 2004. The divorce court gave Christian custody of Aiyana. In January 2004, shortly before the CHINS case was closed, Christian moved in with Michelle Urbanus. Christian and Michelle had a stormy relationship, but they married in February 2005. At the time of their marriage, Aiyana Gauvin appeared well and happy. By March 16, 2005, she was dead.

Michelle Gauvin was born to a married woman, whose husband was not the father of the child. Mother and husband were white; the father of the child was African-American. He was a friend of the couple and continued to visit the home after Michelle was born. He brought diapers to the home and played with Michelle. After MIchelle was born, the mother claimed she had been raped. The child was the subject of heated arguments and the object of racial prejudice. At the age of 18 months, Michelle was placed for adoption.

Michelle was adopted by a loving couple and had two loving brothers. She had difficulty bonding with her mother. She was raised in Tippecanoe County. She attended Mayflower Mill Elementary School and McCutcheon High School. She was teased for being the biracial child of a white couple. There is no evidence that she was ever diagnosed with any mental illness or personality disorder prior to the murder, but two psychiatrists testified in this proceeding that she suffers from borderline personality disorder. Certainly she had difficulties throughout her life consistent with that diagnosis. She reacts emotionally to small provocations, she exaggerates her problems, she can’t back down from a confrontation, and she can’t hold a job. She was disciplined in school for talking back, she was the subject of five protective orders, she had conflicts with her neighbors and boyfriends, and the fire department determined that it would not go to her home without the assistance of a deputy sheriff.

During the CHINS proceeding, Christian Gauvin and the Robinsons shared custody and possession of Aiyana amicably. After Aiyana was placed with Christian, however, he delegated responsibility for her care to Michelle. Michelle immediately placed restrictions on the Robinsons’ access to her, such that they had only one more visit with her and had not seen her for a year prior to her death.

Nobody reported that Aiyana had any substantial problems prior to the time that she and Christian came to live with Michelle in February 2004. Christian and Michelle, however, reported that Aiyana was defiant and disrespectful to Michelle; fell over, intentionally injuring herself; would not stop picking her scabs; regressed in her toilet training; reverted to crawling; and refused to eat or would eat condiments out of the refrigerator. They claimed that these behaviors happened irregularly: a period of normalcy would be followed by a period of misbehavior.

Michelle and Christian instituted a series of disciplinary measures in an attempt to control Aiyana’s behavior. Aiyana’s hands were tied to keep her from picking her scabs. She was diapered. She was tied to a chair or a baby gate. She was forced to sleep on a plastic tray on the floor, without bedding, when she relieved herself in her bed. She was force-fed ground up food when she wouldn’t eat. She was locked in her unheated room when she was disrespectful. Michelle spanked Aiyana so hard that her hand hurt. After that, she spanked Aiyana with a cutting board. When the cutting board broke, she continued to beat her with the pieces. When Aiyana was disrespectful, Michelle threatened to tape her mouth shut. Michelle took a series of photographs over a period of weeks or months showing Aiyana lying in her own excrement and tied to her bed, the baby gate, and the faucet in the bathtub. The photos were hung on the wall and Aiyana was forced to look at them to coerce her to behave.

These disciplinary measures preceded the wedding, but had not yet progressed in severity. Aiyana appeared well both at the time of the wedding and two weeks prior to her death when Michelle lunched with a friend.

On March 16, 2005 Aiyana was found, dead, with abrasions and contusions all over her body, inflicted on more than one occasion. She had been beaten by Michelle with a paddle and by Christian with a belt. Michelle had left bite marks on her arm. Over the course of more than a week she had become so malnourished and so dehydrated that she had lost her body fat, suffered liver damage, her extremities were swollen and her bowel was impacted. There were wounds on both wrists and one ankle caused by the ligatures with which Michelle had bound her. Michelle had taped her mouth with duct tape after feeding her an unpalatable mixture on which she had gagged. She was bound and gagged throughout the night.

As severe as these injuries were, however, they were not the cause of death. Aiyana’s death was caused by four or five blows to the head, inflicted with a blunt object. The beating caused a subdural hematoma and optic nerve hemorrhage. Neither Michelle nor Christian nor Michelle’s two children have related a story which accounts for these injuries. Michelle admits beating Aiyana with her hands and the cutting board, and the marks on Aiyana’s head are consistent with the cutting board. In June 2005, Michelle admitted that she killed Aiyana. The court finds that Michelle Gauvin intentionally inflicted the fatal blows to the head of Aiyana Gauvin.

The aggravating element of torture has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The above-mentioned punishment, injuries and pain were intentionally inflicted by Michelle Gauvin for the purpose of coercing and persuading Aiyana Gauvin to change her behavior.

II. Mitigation.

The court finds that Michelle Gauvin has no substantial prior criminal history.

The court rejects the claim that Michelle Gauvin was under extreme emotional distress at the time of the murder. A campaign of torture had been deliberately imposed as the regular form of discipline over a long period of time. Michelle was undoubtedly passionate at intervals, but she had numerous opportunities for reflection. The final blow may have been struck in anger, but the campaign of torture was intentional.

The court also rejects the claim that Michelle played a minor role in a murder carried out by an accomplice. Because neither Michelle nor Christian have been truthful, the court cannot determine precisely what happened. Michelle rejected the opportunity for allocution. The Court finds that Michelle intentionally inflicted the fatal blows, so whatever Christian’s culpability, and he has not yet been tried, Michelle is fully responsible for Aiyana’s death.

The court also rejects the claim that Michelle was substantially dominated by Christian. She was strong willed and held her own in their disputes. She had the power to evict Christian and threatened to do so on several occasions. She owned the house and the car and had the assistance of her parents for the asking. Both Christian and Michelle retreated into an isolated existence, in which Aiyana was isolated even more. Neither Aiyana’s grandparents nor Michelle’s parents were given access to her. There is no evidence that Christian had any friends or family. Neither Christian not Michelle sought professional help or help from family in dealing with Aiyana’s problems. They never took her to a doctor. The blame for the neglect of Aiyana falls on both of them equally.

The court finds that the defendant suffers from severe Borderline Personality Disorder, as a result of her tragic childhood. Both psychiatrists agreed on this diagnosis. Furthermore, both agreed that there is a recognized treatment for the disorder that may increase the coping ability of one who suffers from it.

The court finds that Michelle, with the help of her parents, has raised two exemplary children. There is evidence, however, that she has not been successful in keeping them safe. Moreover, they now must live with the memory of the torture the defendant inflicted on Aiyana and which she compelled them to conceal.

The court finds that prior to the events of this case, Michelle Gauvin had not carried out acts of physical violence, although in light of her numerous confrontations with others, physical and otherwise, the court does not find the violence aberrational.

III. Weighing the Factors.

Weighing the aggravating factors against the mitigating factors, the court finds that the aggravating factors have greater weight. The brutal and deliberate torture of the four-year old victim was horrible beyond words. The defendant had numerous opportunities to stop and seek help. Her severe Borderline Personality Disorder has been with her since her childhood.

There is no evidence that she has ever acknowledged that she has a problem or sought treatment, despite her employment problems, failed relationships, and inability to get along with other people. Because she has never acknowledged her problems in the past, there is no reason to hope that she will persevere with treatment or that treatment will be successful in the future. The lack of a prior criminal record is a substantial mitigating factor. However, without successful treatment, there is reason to fear that the crime will be repeated. The defendant was preparing for a career as a daycare provider and would have faced the challenge of defiant children in that context. Defiant, disrespectful children are an unfortunate fact of life, which the defendant would undoubtedly encounter if released from prison. Defendant continues to minimize her involvement in the crime and has failed to present to the court a coherent explanation of the events that led to Aiyana’s death. The court therefore finds that the defendant’s plea of guilty was not a true acceptance of responsibility and has little weight in mitigation.

For all these reasons, the court finds that the defendant shall be sentenced to life in prison without parole on Count I, Murder.

William Robinson speaks to the Court in the presence of the defendant as a representative of the family and friends of the victim. Cassandra Robinson addresses the Court as a victim of the crime.

The Court having considered the pre-sentence report now finds as follows:

IT IS ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the defendant, Michelle Gauvin, be, and she hereby is, sentenced to the Indiana Department of Correction for life without parole for the crime of Murder, as charged in Count I.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the defendant be, and she hereby is, sentenced to the Indiana Department of Correction for a period of twenty (20) years for the crime of Confinement, as charged in Count IV, a Class B felony.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the defendant be, and she hereby is, sentenced to the Indiana Department of Correction for a period of twenty (20) years for the crime of Neglect of a Dependent, as charged in Count V, a Class B felony.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that said sentences of imprisonment shall run consecutively.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the defendant pay the costs of this action.

The Court now finds that the defendant is entitled to a credit of 587 days, with an equivalent amount of good time, for time spent in confinement while these charges were pending.

On motion of State, remaining counts, Count II, Neglect of a Dependent, as an A felony, and Count III, death penalty are dismissed.

The Court, having sentenced the defendant, now advises her pursuant to Criminal Rule 11 of the Indiana Rules of Procedure concerning her right to challenge the judgment of conviction and the sentence herein and her right to counsel at public expense for the purpose of taking an appeal.

The defendant, Michelle Gauvin, having indicated her desire to appeal, and the Court having found that the defendant is financially unable to employ an attorney, the Court now appoints Kevin O’Reilly to represent the defendant in her appeal.

The Court finds the defendant is indigent and directs the court reporter to prepare a transcript of the evidentiary portions of the trial, designated by trial counsel, at public expense.

The Clerk is directed to issue a certified copy of this Order to the Sheriff of Tippecanoe County, together with a copy of the pre-sentence report of the Tippecanoe County Probation Department, to be transmitted with the prisoner to the Indiana Department of Correction. The Sheriff of Tippecanoe County is charged with the execution of the foregoing judgment.

The Clerk is further directed to send a certified copy of this Order, pre-sentence report (without attachments) and copy of abstract of judgment to Department of Correction.

Copy to counsel, Sheriff, and Tippecanoe County Probation Department. kb
DATED: October 26, 2006 ____________________
Thomas H. Busch


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