Ex-wife describes life with defendant

Man accused of killing infant for money

July 21, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- Alternating between heaving sobs and steely resolve, Deborah Fennell testified yesterday about her life with the man accused of killing their infant daughter for insurance money.

Fennell, 35, told a Montgomery County jury that Garrett Eldred Wilson "wooed" her with roses, fancy gifts and rides in expensive cars. She was infatuated with the director of her church's youth group and soon began having sex with him. She was 12; Wilson was 20 and divorced.

Their relationship led to five pregnancies, she said. Four of them were aborted at Wilson's insistence. The last one resulted in the birth of Brandi Jean in 1981.

Eight weeks after the baby's birth, Fennell said she was shaken awake by her father, who had been summoned to their home by Wilson.

"My daddy told me Brandi was dead," Fennell said, her voice breaking. "The police officer wouldn't let me in to see her. I stood outside her door and my daddy held me and I cried."

Wilson was in the basement, shooting pool, she said, fixing her former husband with an icy stare.

Prosecutors say Wilson collected $40,000 from two insurance policies for which he was the sole beneficiary. Fennell testified she was unaware of the policies and collected nothing.

State's Attorney Douglas Gansler said he would prove that Brandi's death was only "a gruesome dress rehearsal" for the killing of Wilson's 5-month-old son in 1987.

Wilson, 43, is being tried on a first-degree murder charge in Montgomery County in the death of Garrett Michael Wilson. Gansler said the defendant collected $150,000 from two insurance companies after his son's death.

Circuit Judge Ann Harrington ruled that Gansler may tell the jury about Brandi's death in Prince George's County because it points to motive. Wilson is scheduled to stand trial in Upper Marlboro on first-degree murder charges in Brandi's death Sept. 14.

Wilson, Gansler told jurors, "manipulated women, floated from state to state and job to job, spending money without restraint. He was willing to kill to support his spending habit."

Prosecutors in Montgomery and Prince George's counties reopened the cases in 1994, after Garrett Michael's mother learned that Wilson had secretly divorced her, married another woman and fathered another child. Concerned for that child's safety, she went to police with her suspicions about her former husband.

Barry Helfand, Wilson's lawyer, said Gansler's case was based on "emotion and not fact," and asked the jury of eight men and four women to keep an open mind.

"It would be foolhardy of me to believe that you have not formulated an opinion that my client is worse than the devil," he said.

The case will turn on testimony about sudden infant death syndrome -- SIDS -- which Wilson claims killed both children.

Helfand scoffed at the prosecution's star witness who is scheduled to testify next week that both deaths were homicides. He said that Dr. Linda Norton, a forensic pathologist and SIDS expert who has appeared on national television, "rendered her decision without looking at diddly."

Fennell, who lives in southern Anne Arundel County, described a "stormy relationship" with Wilson, one she broke off three weeks before finding out she was pregnant with Brandi. They got married when she was five months pregnant because "I felt it was the right thing to do."

When she was seven months pregnant, Wilson asked her "if I would be OK if something happened to the baby."

She said her parents drove her to the hospital and stayed with her through the delivery. Her father was the first person to hold Brandi.

Wilson never warmed to Brandi, she said, and never fed her, played with her or changed her diaper.

Until the night of April 30, 1981.

Fennell was sick with a cold and her parents urged her to spend the night at their house so they could care for the baby while she slept.

But Wilson insisted he would care for his family, and they went home. Fennell said Wilson gave her "three or four pills" that he called vitamins.

Normally a light sleeper who awakened at the sound of her daughter's cries, Fennell said her parents had to shake her the next morning to break the news.

"He never comforted me about the death. He didn't appear to need comforting," she said.

A month later, Wilson returned home with a new $12,000 Trans Am. Fennell said she left her husband in September of that year.

Fennell said she never told her two children by another man about Brandi and resisted several attempts by prosecutors in 1994 to involve her in the investigation. She gave in when they threatened to subpoena her.

"It was part of my life I had gone through, lived through, cried over and I didn't want to do it again," she said.

During the four-week trial, jurors are expected to hear from Mary Anastasi Wilson, Garrett Wilson's third wife and mother of Garrett Michael.

Also in court is Wilson's fourth and current wife, Vicki, with whom he has a daughter. She said she is convinced of her husband's innocence.

"He's been a very involved father. He plays with her a lot. I know he did not do what he is accused of," said Vicky Wilson, clutching a photo of Garrett Wilson and their 6-year-old daughter.

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