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Doctor testifies: Child had no signs of life

CHAMBERLAIN — There was nothing that could have saved 4-year-old Mason Naser, who suffered fatal internal injuries on Feb. 21, 2013, according to the doctor who saw the child that evening.

"Mason had no heartbeat and no clinical signs of life" upon arrival at Sanford Chamberlain Medical Center, said Travis Sanger, the on-call emergency room doctor the evening of the child's death. "That includes not breathing on his own."

Sanger was among eight witnesses who testified Friday during the first day of the trial of Donika Gonzales, 23, who is accused of beating Naser to death by hitting, kicking and stomping on him at a rural residence in Buffalo County.

Gonzales was Tyler Naser Sr.'s live-in girlfriend and caretaker of Mason Naser and his siblings at the time of the child's death. Tyler Naser Sr. is Mason Naser's father, but Gonzales is not the child's mother.

The state of South Dakota began the trial Friday with opening statements at the Brule County Courthouse.

Assistant Attorney General Lindsey S. Quasney told the jury of nine men and five women that Gonzales said, after she was arrested, she didn't know why she hurt Naser, because he was "her little helper."

"The evidence will show you the defendant did indeed hurt 'her little helper' and hurt him really bad," Quasney said.

The defense reserved its right to make opening statements after the prosecution rests its case.

Although the crime occurred in Buffalo County, the trial was moved to Brule County for space reasons.

Naser suffered a "catastrophic neurological defect," Dr. Sanger testified. He further explained Naser's pupils were nonreactive, which indicated there was a severe malfunction of the brain.

When he examined Naser, Sanger said he used the Glasgow Coma Scale, which helps doctors determine the neurological or spontaneous movement status of a patient. He checked for spontaneous eye opening, motor movement and verbal response. Naser responded to none of these.

"Based on the lack of movement, lack of eye opening, no verbal response and no pupil movement, there were no signs of life," Sanger said.

Naser was medically dead upon arrival at the hospital, he affirmed, but pronounced dead at 6:14 p.m.

Dr. Sanger testified that he observed many bruises and scrapes on Naser's body in a post-mortem exam. The prosecution showed 10 photos of Naser's injuries that were taken by Sanger after the child was pronounced dead. The photos included bruises in various locations on his face, arms, legs, back and chest. It also showed needle marks in the crooks of each arm. It was never clear during Friday's proceedings what caused the needle marks in the child's arms.

Sanger said he estimated many of the bruises were caused within 48 hours.

He also estimated the bruising to Naser's chest was likely due to blunt force trauma.

Missouri Valley Ambulance Paramedic Katheryn Benton testified she also observed needle marks on each crook of Naser's arms. Benton and another emergency medical technician joined the Fort Thompson Ambulance on Feb. 21, 2013, en route to Chamberlain to provide more advanced medical treatment. Benton first put an IV in Naser's leg to get fluid and medicine into his system faster. Then she searched for a second location to insert an IV.

"Both arms already had needle marks in them," she said.

Benton asked Tyler Naser Sr., the child's father who was riding in the front seat of the ambulance, when Naser had last seen a doctor or if he knew what happened that day. Tyler Naser Sr. said the child had not seen a doctor recently and he didn't know what happened.

She proceeded to try to get a needle in Mason Naser's left arm, but was unsuccessful, she said.

She also placed a tube in Naser's throat to help him breathe, but his condition did not change.

"He had no pulse and he was not breathing," she said.

Fort Thompson EMT DuWayne Whirlwind Soldier testified the child was unconscious and unresponsive when being worked on by medical professionals between rural Gann Valley and the Chamberlain hospital in February 2013. He also observed needle marks in the crooks of Naser's arms and asked Tyler Naser Sr. if he knew what caused the needle marks. Tyler Naser Sr. said he didn't know, Whirlwind Soldier said.

He added he is not trained or certified to insert IVs.

Whirlwind Soldier testified the child was unresponsive and unconscious when he arrived at the Naser farmstead around 5 p.m. Whirlwind Soldier said he and others continuously performed CPR on Naser during an ambulance ride to the Chamberlain hospital.

"I placed Mason on a cardiac monitor and placed defibrillator pads on Mason," he said.

During the time Naser was on the cardiac monitor, Whirlwind Soldier said he could only shock Naser's heart one time to attempt to get it back into regular rhythm. However, his heart never went back into regular rhythm.

Paramedic Benton testified Naser was never shocked because the defibrillator never detected a shockable heart rhythm.

Naser's aunt, Malissa Walters, testified briefly Friday about her nephew's demeanor. She said he was a brave boy, never afraid to try anything, and loved helping out by carrying in groceries or cleaning. He had a close relationship with his brother, Tyler Naser Jr.

If one of his siblings was hurt, he was loving and caring, Walters said, giving the hurt child hugs and kisses.

"He was just a kid ready to learn, ready to play, ready to have fun," she said. "But more importantly, he was ready to live."

The trial is scheduled to continue at 9 a.m. Monday at the Brule County Courthouse in Chamberlain.