Baby died of illness, court told Doctors defend Ruby, blame pneumonia

March 07, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Defense witnesses in the trial of a Taneytown mother accused of smothering her baby in August said yesterday that the infant died of pneumonia and her mother mistakenly thought she had killed the child.

Dr. Charles E. Adams and Dr. Ellen McDaniel, recognized by the court as experts in forensic pathology and forensic psychiatry, respectively, rejected the testimony by state medical examiners that Lisa E. Ruby, 20, murdered her 4-month-old daughter, Tabitha L. Meekins, by stuffing a rag in the child's mouth Aug. 6.

Adams told the court that bruises on the baby's left cheek and chin could not have been made by fingertips of a hand being used to smother the child, because the circular pattern, in the shape of a letter C, was backward to the pattern one would expect to find in such an act.

"The bruises may have come from fingertips, but not from smothering," Adams said.

Adams said a baby could be smothered without leaving bruises, and the fact that bruises existed on Tabitha Meekins "does not support a cause of death by smothering."

Adams also commented on microscopic slides and photographs of the baby's lung tissue, pointing out evidence of progressive infection from viral and possibly bacterial pneumonia.

Asked if he agreed with state medical examiners that the baby's lung tissue showed evidence of bronchial pneumonia, Adams said, "I do not."

Prosecutors Tracy A. Gilmore and Marcie Sweren Wogan were expected to cross-examine Adams today. They said the trial would not conclude until at least Monday.

Earlier, McDaniel and Merryn Cantrill, a former Big Sister to Ruby, painted a psychological portrait of Ruby as an introvert who was easily and often frustrated. They said she did not act aggressively.

McDaniel said records from school, doctors and social service agencies contained numerous instances in which Ruby was easily overcome by emotional situations, became paralyzed and was unable to respond.

McDaniel said Ruby's early history showed ample example that she was emotionally, physically and sexually abused, and that she had very low self-esteem.

Asked by Daniel Shemer, a public defender representing Ruby, if parents deal with the loss of a child by blaming themselves, McDaniel said it was very common in such instances for parents to blame themselves, even if it was not remotely possible that they were involved in the child's death.

McDaniel said parents could even say, "I killed my child," when in fact they had not.

State police have testified that Ruby confessed before and after she led investigators to the baby's body, which she had buried in a woods near Prettyboy Reservoir in northwestern Baltimore County.

Cantrill, who saw Ruby once or twice a week beginning in 1987 through a Big Sister program, testified that Ruby was adopted at an early age and was given a huge responsibility caring for younger siblings who were the biological children of her adoptive parents.

Cantrill said that once, to punish Lisa, the girl's mother locked her in a dog house in the back yard.

On another occasion, Cantrill testified, she took Ruby from her home after the girl said she had been struck by her mother. Cantrill said she called police and social services workers the next day.

"Her mother told me, 'Take her. I don't want her. I don't need her. She was never mine anyway,' " Cantrill said.

After living in a foster home for about two years, Ruby left to join a boyfriend her foster parents did not approve of, said Cantrill, who said she has not had contact with Ruby since about 1993.

In cross-examination of McDaniel, Wogan questioned the doctor's "selective recollection" of examples of Ruby's behavior, which were drawn from 13 school, medical and social services documents, as well as two interviews McDaniel had had with Ruby.

When the prosecutor asked McDaniel about Ruby's behavioral problems cited in school records, McDaniel discounted them, saying the source was Ruby's mother.

In questioning McDaniel, Wogan noted that no sexual assault on Ruby was ever substantiated.

McDaniel did agree with Wogan on one point: Ruby felt trapped after the birth of her child. "There was no good option for Lisa," McDaniel said.

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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