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CROWN POINT — Jurors seated for a murder trial this week in Lake Criminal Court were asked Tuesday to pay close attention to a timeline of events because they will have to determine whether a Merrillville man beat his girlfriend's toddler to death in 2017.

Lavoyd D. Shepherd, 34, is accused of causing the injuries that led to the death 20-month-old Alena Ferguson after her mother, Lena Harper, put her to sleep Feb. 20, 2017, at Shepherd's apartment in Merrillville.

Scott King, one of Shepherd's defense attorneys, cast doubt on the state's timeline and suggested Alena was injured during a three-day visit just before her death with her father's family in Chicago.

Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Natalie McCandies said Alena died from multiple blunt force trauma injuries to her head and torso.

She was happy and playful about 10 p.m., before Harper and Shepherd's then-10-year-old son went to sleep. By about 6 a.m. the following day, Alena was dead.

"There was only one person in the home who was awake," McCandies said. "Lavoyd Shepherd."

According to court records, police became suspicious after Shepherd left the hospital while Alena was being treated. He gave police conflicting information about what happened to the child, court records state.

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King said Harper took her daughter to visit her father, Andre Ferguson, in Chicago on Feb. 17, 2017. Alena's father worked that weekend, so the girl spent much of her visit in the care of her grandmother and grandfather, King said.

At one point, the grandmother left the 1-year-old alone in the care of a 17-year-old uncle, he said. 

Testimony will show Harper found vomit and diarrhea on her daughter's clothing while unpacking a bag, King said. A forensic pathologist for the Lake County coroner's office was expected to testify that Alena could have been injured up to 48 hours before her death, he said.

King said he anticipated jurors would find Shepherd not guilty.

"We're all human beings, but we cannot make decisions based on sympathy," he said. "They must be based on evidence and the law."

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Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.