Autopsy on baby is questioned Mother's lawyer says cause of death noted in report is incorrect

'Asphyxiation' disputed

Expressions of grief allegedly mistaken by police as confession

March 04, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

The lawyer for a Taneytown mother accused of smothering her baby last August says a state medical examiner botched the autopsy and police mistook his client's grief-stricken statements for a confession.

Daniel Shemer, an assistant public defender representing Lisa E. Ruby, said yesterday that his client's 4-month-old daughter, Tabitha L. Meekins, died of bronchial pneumonia and interstitial pneumonitis, an inflammation or infection involving blood vessels and connective lung tissue.

Shemer said two medical experts will testify that Tabitha did not die of asphyxiation, the cause of death reported by Dr. Theodore M. King, a state medical examiner.

"Dr. King missed the real cause of death and [Lisa Ruby] may be tremendously guilt-ridden, but she didn't do it," said Shemer, concluding his opening statement before Carroll County Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr.

Prosecutor Tracy A. Gilmore said evidence would show that Ruby killed the child on Aug. 6 and hid the body in woods near Pretty Boy Reservoir in northwestern Baltimore County before confessing and leading state police to Tabitha's makeshift grave under a pile of leaves off Gunpowder Road.

Trooper Chris Hall of the Westminster barracks, the state's first witness, testified that he answered a call to the 3900 block of Old Taneytown Pike for a possible drug overdose and found Ruby walking along the road near her home, where she lived with Michael Meekins, her boyfriend and the child's father.

Hall said Meekins arrived and told him Ruby had taken three packages of cold medicine and that their baby was missing. The trooper said Meekins gave him a "suicide" note that Ruby apparently had left in the house.

Hall said Ruby repeatedly said, "You wouldn't understand," when asked about the baby and about what medication she had ingested.

Hall said he did not suspect that the baby was dead at that point. He said he placed Ruby in handcuffs to take her back to her home in his patrol car because he was concerned about her safety and his own.

Hall said emergency medical technicians soon arrived and confirmed what Meekins said he had learned after calling the poison control center, that Ruby did not need immediate medical attention unless she showed signs of illness.

The trooper described Ruby as upset and testified that she told him she wanted to kill herself.

Hall said Ruby told him that she found the baby unconscious in bed about 9: 30 a.m. and that the baby had choked on a blanket.

"She told me that she feared police would not believe her," Hall said.

The trooper said he did not know then that Tabitha had been treated for a broken arm in June or that social service workers had investigated and determined that the cause was accidental.

Hall said he did not arrest Ruby, but advised her of her right to have an attorney present before questioning.

Hall said Ruby agreed to guide investigators to the remote location where the child's body was found.

Under Shemer's cross-examination, Hall said he never asked Ruby how or why the child choked on a blanket.

Tfc. John Reininger, the primary investigator, testified that Ruby told him that "she was in trouble," and that "she didn't do anything wrong." He said Ruby said several times, "You wouldn't understand," and "I am in trouble."

Reininger said that before Ruby was driven to Carroll County General Hospital to be examined and evaluated that evening, she told him: "I killed my baby. It's all my fault."

Reininger said he decided to arrest Ruby on charges of first-degree murder and child abuse after finding a diary in her bedroom and talking to Cpl. Ronald Cullison, who obtained a recorded statement from the woman at the hospital. Reininger said he made the decision before reading the diary.

The diary was introduced as evidence yesterday, but no one testified about its contents.

Shemer referred to the diary in his opening statement, saying his client talked of hating diapers, vomit and crying, but that her diary made no mention of any plan to get rid of Tabitha.

"Things that [Ruby] said in her 'confession' are consistent with things a mother would say if she had just lost a child," Shemer said. "What she told police was an expression of grief."

The trial is expected to continue through Friday.

Pub Date: 3/04/97

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