Judge finds woman, 20, guilty in death of her infant daughter First-degree murder ruled out

verdict is involuntary manslaughter

March 19, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County judge yesterday found a 20-year-old Taneytown woman innocent of first-degree murder yesterday but guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of her infant daughter last summer.

Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. also found Lisa E. Ruby guilty of battery, reckless endangerment and two counts of child abuse after a six-day nonjury trial. Ruby, who is being held at the Carroll County Detention Center in Westminster, will be sentenced on May 19. She could receive up to 70 years in prison.

Burns said Ruby did not plan to smother 4-month-old Tabitha L. Meekins before hiding the body near Prettyboy Reservoir in northern Baltimore County. Burns said Ruby's diary was a key element in rejecting prosecutors' theory that she hated the infant and planned to kill her.

Burns said he had read the diary four or five times since testimony in the trial concluded March 10. Yesterday, he read aloud selected passages written between May 23 and July 28, a week before the baby's death on Aug. 6.

Ruby, who wore a drab sweat shirt and pants, appeared upset as the judge read excerpts.

Burns said seven passages in particular showed that Ruby planned to move out of the house and leave the baby with her boyfriend, Michael Meekins, the infant's father.

"I want to be a good mother, but I don't have the patience," Ruby wrote on May 23. In June, she wrote, "I am taking my name off her birth certificate. She will not learn much about me."

Burns said Ruby clearly did not want to care for the baby but her diary and her statements to police did not show the intent necessary to convict her of first- or second-degree murder.

Burns agreed with prosecutors that the cause and manner of death was homicidal smothering.

Public Defender Dan Shemer presented two expert forensic pathologists who disagreed with a state medical examiner that the baby died by smothering.

Dr. John E. Adams and Dr. Bert F. Morton said the baby died of interstitial pneumonitis, an inflammation and infection of the linings of the lungs.

Burns said evidence showed the baby had no symptoms of interstitial pneumonitis, no fever or any difficulty breathing and drank a bottle normally on the morning of her death.

He said testimony from Dr. John E. Smialek, the state's chief medical examiner, persuaded him that the pathologists for the defense did not take into account the time the baby's body was exposed to heat before the autopsy.

The bruising on the baby's face occurred during Ruby's "futile attempts to perform CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation]," Burns said.

In finding Ruby guilty of involuntary manslaughter, Burns said the defendant's actions -- leaving the baby unattended after placing a rag in the infant's mouth -- clearly caused the death.

In finding her guilty of battery, child abuse and reckless endangerment, Burns said the physical harm suffered by the baby was not accidental.

Prosecutors called the case a tragedy.

"We set out to prove the cause and manner of death was homicidal smothering, and we did," said Marci Sweren Wogan, a co-prosecutor with Tracy A. Gilmore.

"It's hard to say you are satisfied [with the verdict], when a 4-month-old baby has died," Gilmore said. "It's a hollow victory."

Pub Date: 3/19/97

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