Legislation would make death reports mandatory

Anne Arundel man disposed of body of daughter, 4

August 31, 1999|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF

The man who disposed of his 4-year-old daughter's body in garbage bags after her unreported death said yesterday he did nothing wrong and would do it again -- but state legislators say they are drafting a bill that would make such actions illegal.

Richard "Prince" Marshall, 25, said he was frightened to find his daughter, Z'aira, convulsing on the floor of his Glen Burnie apartment last December. With his heart pounding, Marshall said he splashed water on her face and tried to resuscitate her.

Within minutes, Z'aira was dead, he said. It took eight months for police to receive a report from relatives that the little girl might be missing.

Z'aira looked especially beautiful the morning of her death, Marshall recalled. Her hair was braided for her return trip to her mother in New Jersey.

"I cannot believe this happened," he said. "I had just fixed her instant oatmeal from the variety pack. Then, she had what appeared to be a seizure."

He wrapped her body in a blanket, he said, then draped a second "beautiful floral blanket" over her. He kissed her forehead and told her he loved her. Then, he put her body into two garbage bags.

Marshall's private rite was not illegal, and neither was his discarding of Z'aira's body in woods near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

"There are some gaps in current state law and unfortunately it took the death of this young child to point out the many gaps that exist," said Philip C. Jimeno, a Democratic state senator who represents the 31st district. "This calls for a public policy change. I am in a state of disbelief, and somehow there should be criminal sanctions. The public is outraged."

Jimeno, State Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr. and Del. Theodore J. Sophocleus plan to amend the statute that requires medical professionals to report all deaths. If such a law passed, it would not affect Marshall.

Marshall never called 911 or sought medical assistance. He says he was too scared.

Instead, Marshall said he phoned a "woman friend" and told her his pit bull had died and he needed help finding a burial spot. The friend drove him to a wooded area just off W B & A Road in Severn.

"I just did not know what to do and I could not get myself together to tell someone," he said yesterday, while sipping orange juice. "It looked like a nice spot, I wasn't going to put this in nobody's backyard."

He never placed his daughter in the ground -- he left her body in the dense wood and went home. He didn't call the girl's mother, Odelle Morris, 20, who lives with his other daughter, Z'aimha, 5, in Lakewood, N.J. He says Morris never called him about the girl.

Marshall said it was his mother -- not Z'aira's mother -- who reported her missing on Aug. 20. Eight months had passed.

On Aug. 21, knowing that his mother had gone to police in New Jersey, Marshall bought a bucket of Popeye's chicken and checked into the Parkway Inn in Jessup under a different name. He said he planned to tell police of his daughter's death the next morning.

But at 3 a.m., five Anne Arundel County police officers banged on his motel door. He said he knew from the loud knocking that it was the police.

He led them to her gravesite and spent the morning being questioned at the Western District police station. Yesterday, he passed a police administered polygraph test, confirming his story.

He told police that Z'aira had a cough and possibly an ear infection; he had been cleaning her ears with cotton swabs soaked in hydrogen peroxide.

The medical examination of the remains last week was inconclusive. Authorities say toxicology tests on the remains might take several weeks to complete.

Z'aira had been staying with him since July, when he visited her mother, his former girlfriend, at her home in New Jersey. The house had no running water, Marshall said, so he insisted on taking Z'aira to live with him. Police said they are investigating whether the mother continued to collect welfare checks earmarked for Z'aira's support.

"I would have taken both girls but Z'aimha had the chicken pox," said Marshall. "No one had to make me go get my kids."

Z'aira's feet were blistered from shoes that didn't fit, Marshall said. He said he bought her new clothes and took her out to eat.

He is passionate about his six children and the four women who are their mothers, he said. Three-year-old twin girls live in Fort Carson, Colo., and a 2-year-old daughter and his baby son, Prince Jr., live in Baltimore.

Marshall described himself as religious, an adherent of an offshoot of the Nation of Islam called the Five Percenters. They believe in the power of the black man, they don't eat pork and like to hold doors for women, he said. He called himself "Prince" after converting to the religion in fifth grade.

He dreams of working in television, he said. Marshall's last job was working on the loading docks at the Cosmetic Center in Columbia. He has been unemployed since before his daughter died.

Since then, he said, he has been too grief-stricken to work. He has lost his desire to go to clubs with friends and prefers to just sleep, he said.

"I did not even want to shower," he said. "Everyday, I was saying to myself, I wish I could tell. I haven't stopped thinking about it."

Marshall said he does not regret his actions. "I was in total disbelief," he said.

He said he wants to have more children and hopes to have another daughter.

"I would name her Z'aira," he said.

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