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Mother testifies in murder trial

Said she gave defendant a ‘right-cross punch’ after learning of death of son

Tribune Chronicle / Guy Vogrin Arthur Harper looks at some video evidence Tuesday in his murder trial in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

WARREN — When the mother of 3-year-old victim Russell Cottrill learned the boy died after murder defendant Arthur Harper allegedly did a pile driving wrestling move on him, Judith Owens testified Tuesday she gave the defendant a right-cross punch.

Owens was among five state witnesses testifying Tuesday in the trial of Harper, 45, who faces charges of murder, felonius assault and child endangering. Harper is accused of causing the November 2015 death of Cottrill, whom he was babysitting.

If found guilty by a jury of seven women and five men, Harper could face a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

Testimony is expected to continue today in the Trumbull County Common Pleas courtroom of Judge Peter J. Kontos.

The case centers around what happened to Cottrill, who died of severe head trauma Nov. 30, 2015, according to a ruling by the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s office.

On Nov. 28, 2015, the boy was taken to Trumbull Memorial Hospital and then to University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, where he died two days later.

Owens said she had known Harper for a little over a year at the time of her son’s death. She said she had Harper move in with her at her High Street NE home in June 2015. To avoid confusion for the boy, Owens said the two acted like they were a married couple.

“He (Cottrill) started to call him dad,” Owens said.

Owens said her son was energetic with little health problems other than a fever-induced seizure when he was about 2.

“I used to call him my little spit-fire,” she said.

Owens testified she never saw Harper get physical with the boy, other than “drop elbows” with him. It was usually Harper who would fall to the ground, she said.

Under direct examination from assistant Trumbull County Prosecutor Diane Barber, Owens said she learned the boy was hurt and unresponsive from a text message she received from Harper while she was at work about 6:30 p.m. Nov. 28, 2015. Owens testified she told him to call 911.

Owens said she rushed home from her job at Wal-Mart and found an ambulance and three police cars blocking her driveway. She said she didn’t know what happened to the boy, saying she heard later that day Harper say the boy had fallen out of bed.

Later, Warren detective Nick Carney testified for the state, saying Harper stuck with the story of the boy falling out of bed even though doctors at the Cleveland hospital told Carney Nov. 29 the boy would not survive his injuries, which included three blows to the head and one where the spinal cord was pushed into the brain stem.

It was not until well into a second interview with Carney, done Dec. 2 at the Warren Police Department, that Harper admitted he had used a pile-driver wrestling move on the boy several times. The jury spent most of the afternoon watching video footage of the two interviews, the second of which took almost three hours.

Carney is expected to continue his testimony this morning.

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