Defense focuses attack on doctor Cause of baby's death said to be influenced by 'confession,' police

March 05, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

A state medical examiner came under fire yesterday at the murder trial of a Taneytown mother because his autopsy conclusions were heavily influenced by a police report that the woman had confessed to smothering her baby.

Results of microscopic examinations of tissue taken from the heart, kidney, lungs and liver of 4-month-old Tabitha L. Meekins were not completed until Sept. 25, nearly seven weeks after Dr. Theodore M. King Jr. told state police the death was by asphyxiation.

Under cross-examination in the trial of Lisa E. Ruby, the baby's mother, King acknowledged that his notes made Aug. 8, the day of the autopsy, indicated that he told state police at 2: 53 p.m. that the child had been smothered.

King, who testified for three hours yesterday, said the police report and mother's confession were "very important" in his determination of the cause of death. But Daniel Shemer, the public defender representing Ruby, pointed out to King that the copy of the alleged confession was not faxed to the medical examiner's office until Aug. 14.

In opening statements Monday, Shemer contended that Ruby did not kill her child and that her so-called confession was the grief-stricken statement of a guilt-ridden mother.

Shemer sharply questioned King's Aug. 8 conclusion that the child had been smothered.

Key eye tests made at King's request by specialists at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore were not completed until Aug. 13, five days after the cause of death was announced, Shemer said.

The tests showed no signs of hemorrhaging in the eyes, such as normally would be found in cases involving death by smothering, he said.

"Dr. King's findings do not support the conclusion that Tabitha was smothered," Shemer said.

King said he might not have had a copy of the confession in hand, but that he must have talked with police investigators, and that would have helped him make his determination.

King said he found evidence of old fractures in two bones in the child's right forearm, as well as old and new contusions and abrasions on the forehead, cheeks and chin.

The fractures appeared to be 10 to 14 days old, he said.

King said an X-ray of the baby's left arm showed no evidence of a fracture.

The child's left arm was broken in June, according to police and reports by social services investigators.

Michael Meekins, the infant's father and Ruby's live-in boyfriend, testified yesterday that he had lied to police and social services investigators about how Tabitha's arm was broken in June.

Meekins told investigators that he had been carrying the baby and tripped over a cat, but said yesterday under questioning from prosecutor Tracy A. Gilmore that he broke his daughter's arm while pushing her hand away from her mouth while he was feeding her.

Other witnesses yesterday portrayed Ruby as ill-prepared for motherhood, telling Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. that she didn't bathe her daughter often enough and that she once tried to feed the child a bottle filled with curdled baby formula.

Samuel Pickett of Taneytown testified that he saw Ruby yank Tabitha by one arm out of a car seat and that he saw her put the baby on the hot hood of her car while changing a diaper.

"The baby was crying and she really started fussing when [Ruby] put her on the hood," Pickett said.

Virginia Rieeling, Tabitha's godmother who lives in Gettysburg, Pa., testified that Ruby routinely wrapped Tabitha so tightly in a blanket that the baby's arms were constricted.

She said Ruby told her that she had to keep the baby's hands out of her mouth while she was feeding her.

Meekins said he had concerns about the way Ruby began "manhandling" Tabitha about a month after their daughter was born on April 16, which was Ruby's 20th birthday.

Ruby experienced mood swings and often became angry, Meekins said.

Under cross-examination, Meekins said he had never seen Ruby strike the baby.

Meekins said they often bathed the baby together, every other day, and that Tabitha was clean and cared for adequately.

"Wasn't Lisa just trying to get away from motherhood?" Shemer asked.

"Yes," Meekins said.

The trial is to continue today.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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