Detective testifies in slaying case Mother told police she felt 'frustrated' the day baby died

Chief medical examiner defends autopsy finding

March 06, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Three hours after leading police to the body of her 4-month-old daughter, a Taneytown mother told a detective that she had felt cranky and frustrated when she had put a rag in the crying infant's mouth before preparing the baby's bottle that morning.

Lisa E. Ruby, 20, was arrested on murder charges in the Aug. 6, 1996, death of her daughter, Tabitha L. Meekins. Cpl. Ronald Cullison, the detective who recorded her statements in a hospital emergency room the day the child died, testified yesterday that he clearly understood Ruby to mean that she had killed her baby.

Prosecutors Marcie Sweren Wogan and Tracy A. Gilmore introduced the taped interview during the third day of testimony at Ruby's trial in Carroll County Circuit Court before Judge Luke K. Burns Jr.

Ruby told Cullison that she watched television for a while and returned to check on the baby only after the bottle she was heating had melted.

"She wasn't breathing. I didn't know what to do. I was frantic. I tried CPR" [cardiopulmonary resuscitation], Ruby said.

According to a transcript of the 17-minute taped interview, Ruby told Cullison that she put the baby in the car and drove about 20 miles to a remote site near Prettyboy Reservoir in northwestern Baltimore County and buried the infant under leaves.

During the interview, Cullison asked her to go back over her story and explain how she felt when she reached the point of describing going to the baby that morning.

"I was frustrated. I wake up and the cats are screaming at me, she is screaming at me, like everything was going wrong at one time, and I was getting frustrated."

Cullison said he called the Westminster barracks after the interview and told Tfc. John Reininger, the primary investigator in the case, that "[Ruby] put a rag in the baby's mouth. She did it."

During cross-examination, Cullison denied that his interviewing techniques were unfair and that his questions were designed to influence Ruby's answers.

Daniel Shemer, a public defender representing Ruby, focused on a point in the interview when Cullison suggested Ruby hadn't been totally honest with him.

Cullison said, "Then, later you changed your story and said that you kinda helped [pause] helped her die." The detective acknowledged that, in his notes taken before the taped portion of the interview, Ruby did not use the phrase "helped her die." He said Ruby did say, "I kinda helped," a reference Cullison took to mean that Ruby placed the cloth in the baby's mouth.

In the afternoon, the trial centered on medical aspects of the death as Dr. John E. Smialek, the state's chief medical examiner, and Dr. Michael J. Scobie of the Carroll Children's Center testified as experts in forensic pathology and pediatric medicine, respectively.

Wogan went on the attack, eliciting testimony from both doctors that was intended to dash Shemer's contention that the baby died of pneumonia.

Scobie said his medical center's records showed no instance where Ruby or Michael Meekins, the child's father, visited or called because the baby was sick.

Smialek, who reviewed and signed off on the infant's autopsy performed by Dr. Theodore M. King Jr., an assistant medical examiner, said he concurred with the finding that the baby died by homicidal smothering.

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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