Doctor disputes father's version of 19-month-old son's death

April 04, 1992|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

When 19-month old Christopher Andre Morris arrived at the Johns Hopkins pediatric trauma center the night of Jan. 20 last year, his small body was bruised and his heart rate and breathing were erratic. He died a few hours later from massive internal injuries.

His father, Baltimore City police Officer Carl W. Morris Jr., 34, faces charges of first- degree murder and child abuse as his trial continues in a Howard County courtroom. Testimony began Thursday.

At the time of the incident, Mr. Morris was suspended from the force without pay after being booked on assault charges in Prince Georges County.

"It is the state's contention that Christopher's death was much more than tragic. It was criminal -- physical child abuse and ultimately murder," said prosecutor Kate O'Donnell in opening statements before Howard County Circuit Judge James B. Dudley.

Mr. Morris had worked in the Baltimore Police Department's Southwestern District since April of 1985. His assault charges are pending.

A police investigation into Christopher's death began after doctors who treated the baby became suspicious about the cause of his injuries.

Mr. Morris told emergency medical workers that he had found Christopher at the bottom of the stairs with a carpet cleaner on top of him. He called an ambulance to his Columbia home about 6 p.m. January 20, saying his son had stopped breathing.

One of the doctors who treated Christopher testified yesterday that the injuries the child sustained are not consistent with falling down a flight of six steps or having a carpet cleaner fall on top him.

"This child bled to death from the major blood vessel in his gut being torn in half," said Dr. Keith Thomas Siverston, one of the doctors who treated Christopher at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"This is not the kind of tumbling injury you expect from an 18-month-old going down a flight of stairs," Dr. Siverston said.

Mr. Morris' public defender, Louis P. Willemin, said that the accusation against his client is an attempt to assess blame for Christopher's death.

"He loves his child and finds himself wrongly accused of having caused his death, the two things together are unimagineable," Mr. Willemin said.

During two days of trial testimony, state witnesses gave differing accounts of explanations that Mr. Morris had given to them about the events surrounding Christopher's injuries. Ms. O'Donnell maintains that Mr. Morris' version of the story got "better and better" as he became aware that his son's injuries were life-threatening.

Cardiac arrest technician James C. Ostmann, testified that Mr. Morris told him that Christopher had fallen down the stairs while chasing his siblings and cousins. He didn't mention a carpet cleaner falling on the baby, Mr. Ostmann said.

Sgt. Fred McHargue, supervisor of the child abuse section of the Howard County Police Department, testified yesterday that Mr. Morris told him that he was sorting laundry at home when he heard a crash. When he checked, Mr. Morris said he found the child at the bottom of the foyer with a carpet cleaner on top of him.

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