By Philip Jankowski

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON - A man accused of severely injuring a 15-month-old boy will take the stand today in his defense.

Attorney James Stapler said he intends to call defendant Tommy Jason Kriska to the stand during the defense's portion of the trial. Kriska is charged with first-degree injury to a child.

The prosecution rested Tuesday after calling four witnesses, including the mother of the child and a doctor who testified the injuries to the child likely resulted from abuse.

The victim's mother wept softy as she described how the back of her son's head felt the night of the Feb. 24, 2009, incident at Kriska's Killeen residence.

"(My son) was completely limp and unconscious," the mother said. "Tommy (Kriska) was in the living room. When he handed (my son) to me, his head felt like complete mush."

According to Dr. David Hardy, chief of pediatric critical care at Scott & White Hospital, the soft feeling of the child's head was caused by large amounts of swelling.

Hardy, who examined the child the night of the incident, told the jury bleeding on the surface of the brain, near the back of the eyes and the extent of swelling all pointed to a level of trauma consistent with physical abuse. The trauma was consistent with a two-story fall or a car accident, he testified.

"I do not see this in children who have tripped and fallen," Hardy testified.

Attorneys for both sides jostled over the timing of the injury. Assistant District Attorney Murff Bledsoe argued the nature of the child's injury and the symptoms it caused indicated a rapid onset of symptoms.

Stapler argued the symptoms may have taken days to manifest.

Kriska, a Fort Hood military police officer, was the lone caretaker of the child at the time he notified emergency officials the child was in distress. The child's mother had been out running errands for a little over an hour when he called 911.

The mother testified the child had been acting normal during the afternoon. When she returned home, the boy was gasping for air and unconscious.

A few days prior to the incident, Kriska and the mother were both awakened by a loud noise they later determined was the child banging his head against the wall of the crib, the mother testified.

However, Hardy told the jury a 15-month-old child would not have the strength to inflict such injuries upon itself. And even if the child had, the symptoms would have emerged within minutes, not days, he testified.

"The more rapid the onset, the larger the force," Hardy testified. "It took minutes in this case."

The child recovered rapidly from the injuries, Hardy said. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Kriska and the mother had entered into a relationship just as the mother's marriage was dissolving. Their relationship remained secret for a few months, because Kriska was a superior officer to the woman's then-husband, she testified.

At the time of the incident, the husband was out of state in a training program.

Kriska is the father of four children. While being investigating by Child Protective Services, an investigator found no criminal history or history of child abuse.

Kriska's sister, Melissa Mendez, testified Kriska was good with children, and that she continues to trust him with her children despite the allegations against him.

"He has more patience than most," Mendez said.

Testimony will continue at 9 a.m. today in Judge Martha Trudo's 264th District Courtroom.

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