Closing arguments made in trial of man accused of killing baby

October 09, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The attorney for a man accused of murdering a baby argued yesterday that any of several people -- parents included -- could have killed the Crofton boy, but prosecutors said only Zenon Cantu Jr. really had an opportunity.

After five days of testimony, both sides gave closing arguments before an Anne Arundel County Circuit courtroom packed with misty-eyed relatives and friends of Cantu and the baby, Nicholas R. Alford.

As the two camps left the courtroom, lawyers and deputies herded them to opposite sides of the hall to avoid a repetition of a hallway confrontation that occurred early in the week.

Judge Robert H. Heller Jr., hearing the case without a jury, will hand down his verdict Oct. 16.

Parents Karla and Scott Alford cried as Assistant State's Attorney Thomas J. Pryal described how he believed Cantu laid Nicholas face down as he put him to bed Jan. 13 and then struck him twice in the back of the head.

Defense lawyer T. Joseph Touhey argued that because the parents and the family's nanny were with Nicholas during the hours the 17-month-old may have been struck, and because no physical evidence tied Cantu to the death, there was not enough evidence to convict Cantu of second-degree murder and two related charges.

Pryal said: "I don't believe the parents were in any position to do it. The only person who is within the time window is the defendant."

Cantu did not testify, but his denial to police was submitted in evidence. That included an exchange in which officers asked Cantu what he would do if it turned out he had lied, and he replied, "I will cross that bridge when I get to it."

"There are ample, unanswered questions in this case," Touhey said, seeking acquittal for lack of evidence.

Much of the argument centered on several discrepancies in witnesses' statements.

Nanny Maria Elisa Bilbo, Cantu's fiance, initially told police she did not hear the baby cry after Cantu put him to bed. Last week she testified that she did.

Nicholas was put to bed with a full bottle, but only about an ounce remained in the morning, Touhey said.

Dr. David Fowler, who performed the autopsy, said the child probably was struck no later than 9: 30 p.m. and probably earlier. But defense witness Dr. John Adams, a former medical examiner, said he believed the child probably was hit after that, possibly in the middle of the night.

The Alfords returned home about 8: 30 p.m., and Cantu and Bilbo left almost immediately. The Alfords did not check on the child until the next morning, concerned when he had not awakened by about 9: 15 a.m., they testified.

Pub Date: 10/09/98

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