Verdict due Friday in death of infant Mother, 20, is accused of smothering baby

March 11, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. is expected to announce his verdict Friday in the trial of a Taneytown woman accused of smothering her infant daughter and hiding the body in woods near Prettyboy Reservoir last summer.

After six days of testimony, Burns heard closing arguments yesterday in the trial of Lisa E. Ruby, 20, who is charged with first-degree murder, battery, child abuse and reckless endangerment.

Prosecutors argued Ruby was so frustrated over tending her 4-month-old daughter, Tabitha L. Meekins, that she placed a rag in the baby's mouth and covered the nasal air passage with her hand to kill her on Aug. 6, 1996.

Two expert pathologists, Dr. John E. Adams and Dr. Bert F. Morton, said the baby died of a progressive form of pneumonia.

Dr. John E. Smialek, the state's chief medical examiner, rebutted findings that the baby's lungs showed evidence of "interstitial pneumonitis," a progressive infection from viral and possibly bacterial pneumonia. Such an illness inflames and infects blood vessels and connective lung tissue.

He said the pathologists were 20 years behind the times on medical research involving infants.

Smialek, who is recognized as an expert in forensic pathology, also is know for his work in the subspecialty of infant deaths. He said he saw no evidence of pneumonia in microscopic slides of the baby's lung tissue.

While the pathologists have had experience as medical examiners, Tracy A. Gilmore, co-prosecutor with Marci Sweren Wogan, argued that both doctors had had little clinical experience in years with autopsies of infants.

Daniel Shemer, a public defender representing Ruby, said it was ludicrous to suggest that Adams and Morton, who have taught forensic pathology and worked in hospital settings for many years, have not kept up with the latest research.

The aspect of premeditation, an essential element for a guilty finding of first-degree murder, was debated in the closing arguments.

Gilmore said the defendant had plenty of time to stop smothering the baby, described by Ruby as "grunting, groaning and crying." She said it was not a case of death by gunshot, when the trigger is pulled in the heat of passion, leaving no time to reconsider.

Gilmore cited the woman's diary, showing progressive frustration, anger and hatred for the infant because she disliked feeding, diapering and doing laundry for the baby. "Her frustration turned to rage," Gilmore said.

Shemer said there was no evidence that Ruby smothered the baby. He said Ruby's diary was both her therapy and her therapist.

"This is a case of self-loathing," Shemer said. "Lisa Ruby was a girl who was never parented. She had no clue how to be a parent."

Shemer said Ruby never wrote in the diary that she planned to kill the child. He said her frustration led her to decide to leave the home, the baby and her boyfriend.

"I urge you to read the entire diary," Shemer told Burns.

Jerry F. Barnes, state's attorney for Carroll County, said yesterday that, in a first-degree murder case, the judge has the option of finding a defendant guilty to a lesser degree.

The judge, who is hearing the case without a jury, may decide she is guilty of first-degree or second-degree murder, or involuntary manslaughter, or, of course, that she is innocent, Barnes said.

Pub Date: 3/11/97

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