A Clark County Superior Court jury convicted Ryan M. Burge on Thursday of second-degree murder, finding that he killed 5-year-old Hartley Anderson while babysitting the girl.
Jurors were undecided on a charge of first-degree murder but found Burge was guilty of a lesser included charge of manslaughter. The second-degree murder charge was the second count against Burge. The jury also determined that Burge was guilty of several factors that made his crime particularly egregious, including that Hartley was vulnerable and he betrayed a position of trust.
Burge showed little reaction to the conclusion of his trial. His sentencing was set for March 11.
Hartley Anderson’s family, many of whom had sat through nine days of testimony, were reserved when the verdict was delivered by Judge Jennifer Snider. Outside of the Clark County Courthouse, the family said justice had been served.
“(Burge) robbed the world of a beautiful child,” said Hartley’s grandfather, Tim Luchau.
Numerous witnesses were called by the prosecution to testify about the murder investigation, Hartley’s medical record and the examination of her fatal injuries.
During closing arguments, the prosecution argued that the voluminous evidence showed that Burge savagely attacked Hartley for throwing a fit. The defense asserted that the girl had a history of self-harm and caused her own fatal injuries.
Burge, 38, was arrested more than a year ago on suspicion of causing Hartley’s death. She had suffered severe head trauma and died at a Portland hospital.
Vancouver police responded about 5 p.m. Nov. 2, 2018, to the Madison Park Apartments, where emergency responders were treating Hartley’s injuries. Nataasha Luchau had called 911 about her unresponsive daughter.
Burge, Nataasha Luchau’s live-in boyfriend at the time, had been babysitting Hartley all day while she worked and her sons were at school.
In an interview with detectives, Burge said Hartley “threw a temper tantrum” when they left a grocery store, according to a probable cause affidavit. When they got home, Burge said he sent Hartley to her room, where she banged her head against a wall repeatedly.
A neurosurgeon at the children’s hospital told a detective the girl suffered a stroke and massive brain swelling. The doctor said the injuries to her head “could not be self-inflicted,” the affidavit says.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor James Smith told the jury during closing arguments that Burge’s claim that Hartley killed herself was implausible.
Nataasha Luchau said she was not worried about the verdict despite the jury taking about a day to reach its decision. She said she felt the jurors were taking their time deciding between the murder charges.
She was not allowed to sit through the testimony during the trial, but Nataasha Luchau said she did not agree with everything presented by the defense during closing arguments.
The mother said her daughter would have been proud of the outcome. Hartley may have grown up to be an attorney herself, Nataasha Luchau said. It was a repeating conversation in the household. Hartley would argue about things like bedtime frequently, listing reasons to support her point of view.
“Hartley would always win,” her mother said.
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