Father convicted of killing baby son

Jurors reject claim that boy died of SIDS

trial set in girl's death

July 30, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- A Montgomery County jury took only two hours yesterday to convict Garrett Eldred Wilson of what prosecutors called "the most unspeakable crime you can do" -- smothering his infant son for insurance money.

The former piano salesman was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 1987 death of 5-month-old Garrett Michael Wilson. Wilson, 43, faces trial in Prince George's County in September on charges that he murdered 2-month-old Brandi Jean Wilson in a virtually identical fashion in 1981.

Prosecutors in Montgomery County based their case largely on the similarities of the deaths.

Wilson, a convicted embezzler and bank robber, is not eligible for the death penalty in either case under Maryland law. But Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas Gansler said prosecutors will seek a sentence of life without parole.

"I expect the judge's sentence will not be lenient," defense attorney Barry Helfand told reporters after the verdict, announced shortly after 4: 15 p.m.

Helfand promised an appeal, but Gansler said the trial conducted by Circuit Judge Ann Harrington was virtually "appeal-proof."

After the verdict was announced, Harrington revoked Wilson's bond and ordered him held at the Montgomery County Detention Center. The judge set a tentative sentencing date of Sept. 3.

The surprisingly quick verdict came after Gansler told jurors a "mountain of evidence" showed that Wilson had smothered the two babies for a combined $190,000 in death benefits -- $40,000 for Brandi Jean and $150,000 for Garrett Michael.

When the jury's decision was announced, Wilson, who had remained impassive through most of the trial, closed his eyes and appeared shaken.

"He was heaving," said Helfand. "It was about as if someone hit you in the stomach and took your breath away."

Mary "Missy" Anastasi, Wilson's ex-wife and Garrett Michael's mother, wiped away tears after the verdict. Anastasi, who touched off the investigation of Wilson by bringing her suspicions to Montgomery County police in 1994, later praised the jury's verdict.

"I'm just really glad that justice has finally been served and that we're going to be able to stop this man that's ruined an awful lot of lives," she said.

Cases scrutinized

The widely watched case is one of several around the country in which parents have been charged with disguising slayings of their babies as sudden infant death syndrome.

In a news conference after the verdict, Gansler indicated that prosecutors are scrutinizing other cases in which infants' deaths have been attributed to SIDS.

The verdict followed emotional closing arguments from the prosecution and defense.

"What is this child's life worth?" Gansler asked the 12-member jury. Brandishing a picture of the infant boy and pointing at the defendant, he said: "To him it was worth $150,000. How much is it worth to you?"

The case was the first Gansler has tried since he was elected state's attorney last year.

`Numbers that don't add up'

In his closing argument, Helfand accused prosecutors of basing their case on appeals to jurors' emotions and "numbers that don't add up to diddly and never have."

Helfand was referring to testimony from prosecution witnesses that the chances of two babies in the same family dying of SIDS were anywhere from 1 in 4 million to 1 in 200 million.

He said that prosecutors failed to prove that Wilson had killed the infants and could not pinpoint the cause of death. Helfand tried to unravel the prosecution's largely circumstantial case by pulling at various threads, including discrepancies between the testimony of its experts and lack of physical evidence.

"Do you really have the moral courage, the personal integrity, to say I have had a reasonable doubt?" Helfand asked the jury.

He did not have to wait long for an answer.

Gansler said he believed the prosecution's strongest argument was Wilson's purchase of life insurance policies on the infants so soon after their births -- with himself as the sole beneficiary.

"He's the guy who had life insurance on his infants and didn't have any on himself," Gansler said. "That's what's sinister."

Pub Date: 7/30/99

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