Defense rests in trial of man accused of killing baby in 1987

Closing arguments, deliberations set for today

July 29, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- The defense in the first-degree murder trial of Garrett Eldred Wilson rested yesterday after calling two witnesses -- and then claimed victory.

"The state hasn't made a case," said defense lawyer Barry Helfand outside the courtroom. "My client doesn't have to defend himself on this."

But Montgomery County Circuit Judge Ann Harrington denied Helfand's motion for an acquittal, saying prosecutors had presented enough evidence for the jury to consider.

Closing arguments are scheduled for this morning, and the jury will begin deliberations later today.

Wilson, 43, is accused of smothering two of his babies in their cribs to collect $190,000 in insurance money. He is on trial in Montgomery County for the death of 5-month-old Garrett Michael Wilson in 1987. He is scheduled to stand trial in Prince George's County for the death in 1981 of 2-month-old Brandi Jean Wilson.

Wilson says both babies died of sudden infant death syndrome.

Doctor for the defense

Dr. Miles Jones, the defense's medical witness, told the jury of eight men and four women that he disagreed with the prosecution's experts about the causes of death in both cases.

Jones said that after reviewing the autopsies of both babies, he believes Brandi Jean died of SIDS, while the cause of Garrett Michael's death could not be determined.

After authorities in both counties reopened the cases, the state medical examiner changed Brandi Jean's cause of death from SIDS to undetermined and Garrett Michael's from SIDS to homicide.

Jones, a forensic pathologist in private practice in Missouri, discounted the theories of the doctors who preceded him.

He said the swelling of Garrett Michael's brain happened before death -- perhaps during a seizure -- and not as part of the baby's death throes.

"It did not happen in an acute smothering event," he said. "It is quite possible that this infant was suffering from a viral infection and that led to a seizure that led to floppy baby syndrome."

Mother's testimony

Missy Anastasi, Garrett Michael's mother, testified last week that her infant son was warm and limp when she lifted him from his crib and tried to revive him.

The prosecution's experts contended that the swelling happened after the smothering but before the baby's heart became completely still.

Jones also had a different explanation for the large white blotch on Brandi Jean's face after her death.

He said the discoloration occurred because the dead baby had been face down for more than an hour before she was turned over when police took pictures. The pressure on the face prevented blood from pooling in the middle of her face, Jones said.

On Tuesday, Dr. Linda Norton, a national SIDS expert, said the white blotch from mid-forehead to upper lip was caused by someone pushing the baby's face into her bedding and holding it there.

Norton scoffed at the notion that a baby would lie on its face, saying it would be "like flipping a coin and having it land on its side."

Jones said the risk of a second child in a family dying of SIDS was 4 or 6 deaths per 1,000 live births, a rate that is many times greater than the 1 in 4 million used by Norton for two deaths in the same family.

But, he said, he has counseled families that have lost a child: "It's a very small risk. Go ahead and have another child."

Questions on research

Prosecutor David Boynton attacked Jones for the amount of research he conducted before issuing his opinion. Standing before the jury, he placed on a table the inch-thick stack of documents Jones said he reviewed and then pulled from a cardboard box the 18-inch-high stack Norton used.

Turning to Jones, he named documents in Norton's stack one by one and asked him if he had read them. Time and time again, Jones responded, "No."

After testimony concluded, Helfand dismissed some of the documents mentioned by Boynton as being biased and not limited to medical issues.

When asked why he didn't call more witnesses, Helfand said it wasn't necessary.

"I thought we ended on as high a point as we could," he said. "It was time for this trial to end."

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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