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First defense witness spars with prosecutors in foster parents murder trial

Things got heated as the defense began its case.

MCDONOUGH, Ga. — The attorney for Jennifer and Joseph Rosenbaum began presenting its case Tuesday and, almost immediately, the courtroom became confrontational.

The Rosenbaums were foster parents for Laila Daniel and her older sister, Millie, when Laila died on Nov. 27, 2015. Jennifer Rosenbaum said Laila died after she choked on some chicken. Prosecutors say the 2-year-old died of abuse at the hands of the Rosenbaums.

Eric Moreno, a friend of the Rosenbaums, testified Tuesday morning that the couple treated the girls like they were their own children.

Corinne Mull, Rosenbaums' lawyer: Did you ever see Jennifer discipline the children for sleeping in a car?

Eric Moreno, friend of Rosenbaums: No.

Mull: Spank them?

Moreno: No.

Mull: Use a belt on them?

Moreno: No.

Moreno went on to say he lived with the Rosenbaums at one point and never saw them physically discipline the children and never saw bruises or injuries on the girls.

He also confirmed he booked a trip to South Dakota for the Rosenbaums and the girls when he worked at Delta.  Prosecutors have tried to prove the Rosenbaums lied about taking the girls on trips, including to South Dakota for a family member’s wedding. In testimony Tuesday morning, a witness said the Rosenbaums later decided to not take the girls to South Dakota when they learned the event would take place in a casino or tavern.

Moreno told the court he and Jennifer Rosenbaum were in the same National Guard Unit together. Defense attorney Corinne Mull asked if they’d ever received training for CPR or Heimlich maneuver on a child. He said no.

Prosecutors then continued to question Moreno about whether he had any life-saving training in the military. That led to a contentious and lengthy exchange between the witness and prosecutors.

Joseph Rosenbaum’s mother takes stand for defense 

The most emotional testimony of the day came from Mary Rosenbaum, Joseph’s mother. She testified she spent a lot of time with Laila and Millie and kept them overnight when Jennifer and Joseph went to the family member’s wedding in South Dakota.

“If I would have saw anything on those kids I would have turned Jenn and Joseph in myself,” testified Mary Rosenbaum.

MORE: Facebook message, phone recordings introduced as evidence 

Mary Rosenbaum said she never saw any injuries on the girls and that Jennifer did not use corporal punishment to discipline the girls. She said Jennifer used a “time-out” to discipline the girls.

“They (Laila and Millie) were very affectionate to Jenn and Joseph,” testified Mary Rosenbaum. “They loved Jenn and Joseph. And Jenn and Joseph are good parents.”

Mary Rosenbaum also testified she was at the hospital the day Laila died.

“Tears were running down her (Jennifer’s) face,” Mary Rosenbaum told the court. “She was hanging on to Joseph she just kept saying she couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe it.”

Mary told the court the County Coroner, Donald Cleveland, met the Rosenbaums in the hospital and said to Jennifer, “You’re that Jennifer Rosenbaum.” One of the defense’s assertions is that county authorities targeted the Rosenbaums because Jennifer was sometimes a vocal critic of the county government.

Mary Rosenbaum said she has custody of two of her grandchildren and has no concerns with them visiting Jennifer and Joseph Rosenbaum.

Focusing on Great Grandmother’s influence on Millie

The last few defense witnesses of the morning focused on the influence of Peggy Banks, Laila and Millie’s great grandmother.

The girls stayed with Banks on occasion as they were growing up and Banks continued visitations with them throughout their lives. Banks wanted to adopt Millie and spent a lot of time with her after Laila’s death.

Several workers with the Dept. of Family and Child Services took the stand to testify they were concerned Banks may have been telling Millie what to say in the aftermath of Laila’s death.

MORE: Laila’s sister tells of spankings, abuse at Rosenbaum trial 

LaQuitra Billingsley with Clayton Co. DFCS was assigned to Millie’s case after Laila died.

“She (Peggy Banks) stated she did want her (Millie) to be adopted by people at her church which would have been white Christians,” testified Billingsley.

Billingsley also testified Banks told her she didn’t want Millie to be adopted by same sex couples.

“There were a lot of concerns about age appropriate conversation with the child (Millie),” testified Billingsley.

After the lunch break, Mull introduced more than a dozen witnesses, primarily friends of the Rosenbaums, who testified the girls seemed happy and never had any bruises.

The defense will continue making its case on Wednesday.

The Rosenbaums are facing 49 charges including murder.

LISTEN: 911 call released in Henry County child death

MORE: Prosecutors call Rosenbaums ‘liars, abusers, murderers’