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July 22, 2014

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Woman found guilty of baby’s beating death is out on bail

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Sam Morris

Deputy Public Defender Scott Coffee talks to Mariann Harris after her arraignment in district court Thursday, September 8, 2011. Harris pleaded not guilty to the beating death of 14-month-old Dyon Johnson.

Mariann Harris Arraignment

Mariann Harris is arraigned in district court Thursday, September 8, 2011. Harris pleaded not guilty to the beating death of 14-month-old Dyon Johnson. Launch slideshow »

A woman convicted of fatally bashing her 14-month-old goddaughter’s head with a blunt object is out on bail after a judge ruled prosecutors violated her right to a fair trial.

Mariann Harris, who was convicted in October 2013 of first-degree murder, child abuse and neglect with a deadly weapon and two counts of child abuse and neglect, posted a $23,000 bail on Monday.

Clark County District Judge Abbi Silver ruled in January that Harris deserved a new trial because of prosecutors' misconduct. The District Attorney’s Office is appealing to the Nevada Supreme Court.

The victim, Dyon Johnson, had been staying with Harris and Armani Foster, the father of Harris’ children, for several days before she died.

On Aug. 12, 2011, Harris called 911 because Johnson had stopped breathing. Johnson died after being transported to University Medical Center.

An autopsy revealed the baby was covered in 32 recent bruises and died as a result of blunt head trauma, according to court records.

Silver, who presided over the trial, ruled prosecutors repeatedly disobeyed her orders by painting the defendant as uncooperative and uncaring contrary to evidence.

This characterization was based on the defendant’s decision to follow legal advice to use her right to remain silent, Silver ruled.

Harris' silence was used to contrast Harris and Foster, Silver wrote. Both the prosecution and the defense said Foster could have been the killer.

Prosecutors contended Harris was the more likely culprit, saying in closing arguments there was “only a one-hour period” when Foster could have done the crime.

Silver noted that this statement appeared to concede that there was reasonable doubt as to whether or not Harris was the killer.

In her decision, Silver derided prosecutors for suggesting during trial that Harris had fled to California after the baby’s death. Arguing that Harris tried to flee went against evidence, which showed a pregnant Harris went to stay with her family because she had nowhere to live in Las Vegas while her apartment was under investigation, Silver wrote. Evidence also showed authorities were aware Harris was staying in California.

Harris was apprehended while she was staying in California and there was nothing to prove Harris had tried to dodge authorities, according to the decision.

Prosecutors’ repeated arguments and insinuations that Harris tried to flee went directly against Silver’s orders.

This type of misconduct frustrates the public’s interest in justice and risks tainting the jurors, Silver wrote.

Silver waited until after trial to rule on whether or not Harris’ rights had been violated because there was a chance Harris would be acquitted, according to the decision.

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