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Published: Monday, 2/7/2011

Napoleon man to face trial in death of child after long delay

NAPOLEON — Some 3 years after the drug-overdose death of 13-month-old Kamryn Gerken, a Napoleon man is to go on trial Monday in Henry County Common Pleas Court for his alleged role in the child's death.

David Knepley, 51, was charged along with Kamryn's mother, Jayme Schwenkmeyer, 25, of Liberty Center, on charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangering. Mr. Knepley was not the child's father, but was living with Ms. Schwenkmeyer and her daughter at the time of Kamryn's death.

Since the indictment was filed in 2008, Mr. Knepley's case has been set for trial and continued repeatedly — first because of changes in attorneys, then because the two co-defendants requested separate trials, and later because of a challenge to Judge Keith P. Muehlfeld's order that the media not report on Ms. Schwenkmeyer's trial until a jury was seated in Mr. Knepley's trial. The gag order was thrown out by the Ohio Supreme Court, but then his trial was again postponed when a new witness was disclosed by the prosecutor.

Defense attorney Clayton Crates said it's been a long 3 years for his client. "That's something that doesn't get a lot of play is the effect this has had on Dave," Mr. Crates said. "It's the biggest thing going on in his life, something he thinks about everyday. It's taken a toll on him for the last three years. He's eager to get this behind him."

While Mr. Knepley was initially portrayed as Ms. Schwenkmeyer's boyfriend, Mr. Crates said that is not accurate.

"I think the state has given Dave a little too much credit," he said. "He was not a boyfriend. He was a guy that slept on the couch occasionally. He was not a main caregiver of Kamryn. It was actually pretty minimal the times he was in care of her."

The time in question is Aug. 15, 2007, when Kamryn was found unresponsive in her crib and rushed to Henry County Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

An autopsy revealed she had ingested a fatal mix of multiple drugs, including the painkiller oxycodone and the anti-anxiety medication Xanax.

Henry County Prosecutor John Hanna has said he doesn't know whether the little girl found the drugs and put them in her mouth or whether she was given the drugs, but in either case the adults responsible for her care were reckless.

Ms. Schwenkmeyer, who already has gone to trial twice on the charges, is scheduled for a third trial March 31.

Judge Muehlfeld declared a mistrial after her first trial in December, 2009, when it was learned prosecutors had not disclosed statements that she allegedly made to the Henry County coroner. At that time, the judge's gag order was in place.

By the time her case went to trial a second time, in August, 2010, the Ohio Supreme Court had struck down the gag order, saying it was patently unconstitutional and that the judge was obliged to give equal weight to a defendant's right to a fair trial and the media's right of free speech and press.

Ms. Schwenkmeyer was convicted on both charges at that trial, but in December Judge Muehlfeld ordered a third trial for her after it was learned prosecutors had failed to disclose a witness whose testimony might have affected the verdicts in the case.

Mr. Crates said he will offer alibi witnesses for Mr. Knepley as a part of his defense. He said he also intends to use statements made on the record during Ms. Schwenkmeyer's trial last year. At the trial, the prosecution placed the blame for the child's death largely on her mother.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.

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