A 9-month-old St. Mary's County girl could have died from meningitis or from the shock of an infection, lawyers for her parents argued in federal court yesterday.
But the couple, a Navy supply clerk and his wife, certainly didn't kill the child by depriving her of fluids, they insisted.
Peter and Vicki Snyder, both 21, went on trial for second-degree murder yesterday in U.S. District Court in the death of their daughter, Alyson, in November 1989. Federal prosecutors have charged that the Snyders killed Alyson by depriving her of baby formula she needed for at least five days before she died.
The couple was indicted last September after a 10-month probe conducted by the Naval Investigative Service.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Welsh noted that Alyson had been hospitalized six months before her death for "failure to thrive," a condition brought on by a lack of food.
"The second time her parents brought her back to the emergency room, it was too late," Mr. Welsh said. "The second time, they arrived at the hospital with a dead child."
But the pediatrician who examined Alyson's body when her parents brought her to the base hospital at Patuxent Naval Air Station the day before Thanksgiving 1989, conceded yesterday that he could not rule out infection or meningitis as the cause of death.
Dr. Michael J. Frac said he had no explanation for several symptoms, including abnormally high white blood cell counts in the child's spinal fluid, which pointed to infection or meningitis. Under cross-examination by the defense, Dr. Frac acknowledged that those signs, combined with discoloration of Alyson's skin and her body temperature of 102 about an hour after she died, pointed toward infection.