Prosecution urges ignoring Aulton's mental deficiency Jury gets case of mother charged with killing her children in rowhouse fire

February 23, 1996|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Describing Rene Elizabeth Aulton as a "cold-blooded killer" who smoked cigarettes while her two children burned to death, prosecutors urged a Baltimore jury yesterday to ignore her mental shortcomings and send the young woman to prison.

Assistant State's Attorney Donald Huskey rejected defense claims that Ms. Aulton -- who has an IQ just above mild mental retardation -- was manipulated into a confession by police. He said she told detectives the true story when she described setting a fire in a bedroom closet and leaving the room to let her daughters die.

"Can you imagine a person that cold?" Mr. Huskey said in closing arguments in Baltimore Circuit Court. "She said she stood there for 10 or 15 minutes watching that fire burn, until she was sure the children wouldn't get out alive, and then she booked outside."

Ms. Aulton has testified that she can't remember making the confession, in which she admitted setting the fire to kill herself and the children. She said that on the day of the Nov. 15, 1994, fire, the children -- Christina Lambert, 4, and Natalie Aulton, 2 -- were upstairs playing when they began screaming.

Intense heat and smoke, Ms. Aulton said, made it impossible for her to rescue the children at the burning rowhouse in the 2300 block of Fleet St. But Mr. Huskey said he found her story to be incredible.

"You could fill Memorial Stadium with people who would have rushed in and tried to save two children who they didn't even know," Mr. Huskey said. "But in this case, the mother sat out there and smoked cigarettes" while neighbors tried in vain to save the children.

The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for about three hours yesterday before being sent home for the night. They will resume today.

During the trial, jurors heard Ms. Aulton's taped confession taken eight days after the fire. Prosecutors contend that in the days before the fire, she had been depressed over the children because she thought her boyfriend didn't want them.

Mary Jo Livingston, Ms. Aulton's public defender, described her client as "a handicapped individual who gets confused and easily persuaded. If she's guilty of anything, it's of being mentally handicapped and not knowing how to act."

Police "extracted the confession" from her using trickery and subterfuge, and prosecutors were attempting to convict her by making the jury react with blind emotion to the deaths of children, Ms. Livingston said.

"Tears don't convict. Evidence does," Ms. Livingston said. "She didn't set the fire and the state can't prove it."

Prosecutors said the children were found lying "spread-eagle" on their beds in a manner that suggested they may have been unconscious when the fire began. But Ms. Livingston pointed to a medical examiner's report that tested inconclusively for poisons in the children's blood.

Prosecutor Gary Honick said no one tricked Ms. Aulton into her confession. Her own testimony in the trial, he said, showed that she was competent and capable.

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