Ex-nanny's testimony in fiance's murder trial is contradictory Case opens against man charged in baby's death

October 02, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

That 17-month-old Nicholas R. Alford died of a blow to the back of his head in his crib is not in question. Whether Zenon Cantu Jr., 26, struck the crying baby while putting him to bed Jan. 13 is.

Cantu's trial opened yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court with his fiancee's testimony contradicting some of what she told a grand jury or said in depositions.

nTC Cantu, of the 700 block of Duvall Highway in Pasadena, is charged with second-degree murder and two related counts. He is the fiance of Maria Elisa Bilbo-Sacristan, Nicholas Alford's nanny.

Bilbo-Sacristan lived with Nicholas' parents, Scott and Karla Alford, in the 2300 block of Nantucket Drive in Crofton at the time of the baby's death.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Robert H. Heller is hearing the case without a jury.

Bilbo-Sacristan, sometimes relying on a translator, said she heard Nicholas upstairs in his crib when she and Cantu left the house the evening of Jan. 13. She told a grand jury that once Cantu put the baby to bed, she did not hear any more crying. And at one point yesterday, she said she did not hear any noise from upstairs, where Nicholas was alone.

"I think it's a complete change of a very important point," said Assistant State's Attorney Thomas J. Pryal.

There were other discrepancies. She said in a deposition that nobody went upstairs after Cantu took Nicholas to bed. Yesterday, she said Karla Alford's two children from a previous marriage did go upstairs.

She said she thought Nicholas had suffered a concussion a week earlier when he hit his head on a table, but she said the Alfords did not want to take the baby to a doctor. In another incident, she claimed Scott Alford seemed lax about what turned out to be a broken arm.

Cantu's lawyer, T. Joseph Touhey, said in opening statements that prosecutors will be unable to tie his client to the death. When the baby was struck is uncertain, as is the time of death. It is possible, Touhey said, that his client was not in the house when the baby was struck.

Paige Ruff, 10, Karla Alford's daughter, cried, as did several relatives, when she testified that Cantu took her fussy brother and his bottle up to bed.

"There was a thud in Nicholas' room," she said. Then, "he stopped crying."

Paige sobbed uncontrollably under cross-examination when Touhey showed her that she had told police something slightly ** different. She told police she heard Nicholas crying "for a little bit" before stopping.

Bilbo-Sacristan testified that she fed the three children about 6: 15 p.m. She was supposed to go to the home Cantu shares with his sister's family after the Alfords came home but was feeling ill, so Cantu came over. He put the baby to bed, and the two other children stayed up waiting for their mother to return to celebrate her birthday with cake and balloons.

After the Alfords arrived, Cantu and Bilbo-Sacristan left. The nanny did not return until 7 the next morning. Pryal said nobody checked on Nicholas until about 9 a.m., when his parents realized he had not awakened.

The trial is expected to continue for several days.

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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