Grand jury to look into suffocations of 2 babies

July 16, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

The Queen Anne's state's attorney will ask a county grand jury to look into the accidental suffocations of two baby boys in the care of a Stevensville day care provider.

State's Attorney David W. Gregory said a grand jury will allow witnesses -- including the boys' parents, the state medical examiner's office and members of the Department of Human Resources -- to talk freely about the case. He said several witnesses have been reluctant to discuss the case with prosecutors.

"We had some questions about some other facts [of the case]," Gregory said. "They didn't feel like talking about it."

He declined to say which witnesses were reluctant to talk and what questions he was asking.

"What we are trying to do is talk to more witnesses. This is a protected way to get them to appear," he said.

The state medical examiner concluded last week that 5-month-olds Matthew Harrison and Ian W. Denny died at the home of Stevensville day care provider Stacey Russum on May 13 because a quilt used as a protective barrier fell over the upper parts of their bodies.

Babies whose faces are covered with soft bedding rebreathe their air, get little oxygen and might eventually die, according to the state medical examiner's office.

Gregory would not say what he might ask the grand jury to consider. But Russum's attorney is convinced no charges will be filed.

"I feel the facts in the case are so clear against criminal wrongdoing that it makes the convening of a grand jury unnecessary," said Harry M. Walsh Jr., of Easton.

Walsh said he thinks that the state's attorney wants the grand jury to make a decision on charges for him. "My feeling is that the case was just perhaps too heavy on his [Gregory's] heart and he didn't want to make the decision himself," he said.

Russum, Walsh said, was upset with news of the grand jury.

"She is disappointed and upset after the level of cooperation she has given them," he said.

Last week, the Department of Human Resources, which regulates child care providers, revoked Russum's license.

State investigators cited three major violations: unsafe bedding, lack of appropriate supervision and caring for more children than allowed.

Gregory said he would issue subpoenas in the next two weeks. He expects the grand jury to begin meeting next month.

Pub Date: 7/16/98

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