Lucas youngster 'was starved' Doctor testifies in mother's trial

July 17, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Tonya Lucas' 2-year-old son was within days of dying of starvation when he perished, along with five siblings, in an arson fire last year at the family's East Baltimore rowhouse, a Johns Hopkins Hospital pediatrician testified yesterday.

Allen Walker, director of the pediatrics emergency room at Hopkins, told a Circuit Court jury that the woman's 10-pound son was "horribly malnourished" and in a condition worse than the doctor had seen in his medical career.

"In my opinion," Dr. Walker said, "he was starved."

Asked how long the boy would have lived if he hadn't died in the July 7, 1992, fire, he answered, "A matter of days."

Prosecutors called Dr. Walker to the stand as part of their attempt to show Ms. Lucas set the fire hoping to kill the boy and cover up evidence of child abuse -- evidence they say would have been exposed if she had been evicted, as scheduled, the day of the fire. The prosecutors have said Ms. Lucas, 29, who is charged with arson and six counts of first-degree murder, did not intend to kill her other children.

In Ms. Lucas' first trial, which ended April 1 in mistrial after a jury failed to agree on a verdict, prosecutors did not allege that she intended to kill any of her children. Mr. Lesser said he did not press the issue of whether the child-abuse allegations would be admissible then because Judge Clifton J. Gordy, who ruled on the bulk of the pretrial motions, made it clear he would not allow such testimony.

Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman ruled evidence about alleged child abuse would be allowed into the second trial. The prosecution's retooled case had been reflected in testimony Monday, when a homicide detective and two city firefighters were moved to tears while describing the boy's condition.

Dr. Walker testified yesterday that medical records showed the son, Gregory Cook, weighed just above 4 pounds when he was born about eight weeks prematurely but, through "catch-up" growth, had by the age of 11 months reached a relatively healthy weight of 19 1/2 pounds. Much of that growth occurred during a six-month stay at the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, where the child was cared for after social workers deemed the Lucas home unfit, the doctor said.

After an unsuccessful search for a foster home, the boy was returned to the Lucas household, the doctor testified. Dr. Walker said he examined the boy's lifeless body after it had been brought from the fire in the 2400 block of E. Eager St. to the Hopkins emergency room.

"There was no fat under the skin that I could feel and there was very little, if any muscle," the doctor said. He also said X-rays showed that the boy had sustained a broken leg bone and two broken ribs.

Rosalie Parker, a hospital social worker, told the jury she confronted Ms. Lucas at the hospital and demanded an explanation for the child's condition. She said Ms. Lucas said the boy had suffered from lead poisoning and wouldn't swallow food. She also said Ms. Lucas contended the boy had appeared healthy the night before the fire, running and playing with her other children.

Dr. Walker said medical records showed the boy's blood-lead level while younger had been "very low." And he said the boy's condition was so weakened that he probably wouldn't have been able to stand or sit up without help, much less run and play.

The doctor also said the situation in the Lucas household appeared to be an example of a frequently observed, but not fully understood, syndrome in which one child is selected from its siblings to be a "scapegoat" and a target for abuse.

Prosecutor Jack I. Lesser asked, "During your career how many children have you seen who resembled Gregory Cook's condition on July 7, 1992?"

"None," replied Dr. Walker.

After court adjourned, defense attorney Mark A. Van Bavel said the prosecution theory is flawed because Ms. Lucas was not under investigation for child abuse and had no reason to hide the child's condition by setting a fire. He said the medical testimony was "irrelevant" because Ms. Lucas is on trial for murder and not child abuse, but he said he would present a forensic pathologist as part of the defense case.

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