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Woman to stand trial for injuring former Ashland police officer's child

Despite having a negotiated plea agreement, a Central Point woman will stand trial on felony charges accusing her of causing a 2017 injury that left a former Ashland police officer’s child without sight in one eye.

Janell Leah Burns, 48, was scheduled to change her plea Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court on a charge of first-degree criminal mistreatment surrounding a severe head injury to a toddler she was babysitting on May 19, 2017. Jackson County Circuit Court Judge David Orr, however, refused to move forward with the probation-only sentence negotiated between the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office and Burns’ defense lawyers.

“I can’t come to the conclusion this is the proper way forward,” Orr said some 45 minutes after the hearing was scheduled to begin. Orr stated on the record that he consulted with multiple judges before making his decision.

Orr told Douglas County Senior Deputy District Attorney Jodee Jackson and Burns’ defense lawyer Christine Herbert that he’d be willing to consider another plea agreement with stiffer penalties, and that they’re welcome to try another judge, but he “can’t come to terms with this resolution.”

The Douglas County District Attorney’s office prosecuted the case because the child’s father, Aaron Rosas, is a former Ashland police detective who has since found work outside of law enforcement.

The decision left both Burns’ defense lawyers and the Douglas County District Attorney’s office scrambling, each side describing to Orr the numerous expert witnesses who’d since been recused under the belief that a March 16 trial was canceled.

Rosas and his wife, Melissa, flew from Arizona for the hearing. Although Orr’s decision means the case is still open, he said he’d “never seen that happen before,” and expressed gratitude for the judge’s decision.

“I think we both want it to move forward the right way,” he said. “We’re very grateful for the decision by Judge Orr.”

The basis of Orr’s ruling was a 10-page objection filed Friday morning by lawyer Erin Olson of Portland representing Aaron and Melissa Rosas.

“The Rosases are well aware that the ultimate decision of the jury may be to acquit the defendant (Burns), but they would rather see the case tried in good faith than effectively abandoned without any meaningful consequence to the defendant,” Olson wrote in her objection filed Friday morning — roughly 4-1/2 hours before the scheduled hearing.

Few details have yet been released into how Rosas’ daughter, then 14 months old, suffered a traumatic head injury while Burns was babysitting.

The Rosases declined to discuss the circumstances behind the injury, but they and prosecutors allege that the injuries could not have been accidental. What’s known from court filings is that the child was rushed by ambulance to Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center and placed on a ventilator after a CT scan showed internal bleeding in the brain. The child was later airlifted to Oregon Health Sciences University, where she stayed for 10 days after being treated for brain swelling and seizures.

In October 2017, the grand jury indicted Burns on felony charges of first-degree assault, first-degree criminal mistreatment and three misdemeanor counts of fourth-degree assault on two prior dates that week in May 2017.

Outside the courtroom, Rosas said that his daughter’s seizures appear to have subsided, and is “doing well” developmentally these days. However, the almost 5-year-old child is permanently blind in one eye from bilateral retinal hemorrhages.

Rosas said his lingering concern is that his daughter may not be able to handle any future bumps on the head the same way another child might.

“For the rest of her life she’s at risk for another head trauma,” Rosas said.

Rosas said he left law enforcement because what happened to his daughter left him no longer able to handle police work involving injured or sick kids.

“I had some pretty bad PTSD, especially when it came to children,” Rosas said.

As of Friday afternoon, the next court appearance in Burns’ case is a March 15 trial readiness conference. Lawyers from both sides will consult their expert witness’ schedules over the next three weeks and schedule trial date at the hearing.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.