Testimony on first death allowed in Wilson trial

Witnesses suspicious of defendant's behavior

July 22, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- Although the case is 18 years old, a former firefighter and a former insurance salesman remember the crib death of an infant girl for one reason: Something didn't add up.

But their suspicions were ruled inadmissible yesterday in the second day of testimony of the first-degree murder trial of Garrett Eldred Wilson in the death of his son. Prosecutors tried to show that greed pushed the defendant to kill his daughter in 1981 and his son in 1987 for $190,000 in insurance money.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Ann Harrington has ruled that prosecutors can use the death of 2-month-old Brandi Jean Wilson in Prince George's County to establish a pattern of behavior that is consistent with the death of 5-month-old Garrett Michael.

Wilson has maintained that both babies died of sudden infant death syndrome.

But Harrington struck from the record the comments of two witnesses who indicated they were suspicious of Wilson, so much so that one of them kept records that are normally destroyed after three years.

George Smith, who was an insurance agent for 21 years, testified that he sold Wilson a $30,000 insurance policy on Brandi Jean less than two months before she died. He said he did not know that Wilson had also taken out a $10,000 policy on the baby.

On the morning of May 1, 1981, Smith said he received a phone call from Wilson, who said Brandi Jean had died. And while Smith said he couldn't recall the bulk of the conversation, he did remember one sentence: "I didn't know who else to call."

Smith said that when he changed jobs two years ago, he kept the paperwork on the policy.

State's Attorney Douglas Gansler asked Smith why he did that, but before the witness could answer, defense lawyer Barry Helfand objected.

Harrington refused to allow the line of questioning to continue.

Mark Cashman, a volunteer firefighter who reached Brandi's crib first, said the baby's eyes were glazed over, her mouth was open. Purple blotches covered her face and her fists were clenched.

"The way the baby looked, it wasn't right," Cashman testified.

Harrington struck that statement from the record and admonished the jury to ignore it.

Cashman said he stayed with the baby until police arrived, but before leaving told an officer, "There's a little bit more here than meets the eye."

Harrington again struck the testimony and issued a detailed warning to the jury to ignore Cashman's statements because he is not a medical expert and could not give an opinion.

However, others voiced their suspicions, including Brandi's grandmother.

Jean Oliver described how she learned that her daughter, Debbie, then 15, was pregnant by Wilson.

"She said, `Mama, I have something to tell you,' " Jean Oliver testified, dabbing her eyes.

Debbie Oliver testified Tuesday that she had four abortions at Wilson's insistence, but waited too long when she became pregnant with Brandi Jean and the clinic doctor refused to perform another.

Wilson, 24 and the leader of the church youth group to which Debbie belonged, married her despite her parents' reservations.

Jean Oliver said she doesn't remember Wilson in the delivery room when Brandi Jean was born, nor could she recall any moments that Wilson spent holding or feeding the child.

She testified that Wilson called her at 6 a.m. on May 1, 1981, to tell her Brandi Jean was dead.

Asked if she thought Wilson killed Brandi Jean, she started to answer, "Call it a gut feeling. Call it intuition."

"You think he killed Brandi," Helfand finished.

"Yes, yes," she said, nodding.

The prosecution is expected to put on the stand today Mary "Missy" Anastasi, Wilson's third wife and Garrett Michael's mother.

Pub Date: 7/22/99

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