Father takes stand in trial of caregiver

Kevin Shearer says he sometimes saw bruises on daughter

Child died in Nov. 1999

Investigator testifies Butcher became only suspect after autopsy

North Laurel

March 01, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The day their 15-month- old daughter stopped breathing while in Kathleen A. Butcher's care, Kevin Shearer and his wife asked their priest to visit the North Laurel day care provider, figuring she needed the support.

When they learned three days later that baby Alexa's death had been ruled a homicide, they had trouble believing the news, Kevin Shearer testified yesterday in Howard County Circuit Court.

"We trusted her with Alexa. We trusted her to be there when we couldn't be there and to love her," he said of Butcher. Alexa "was a 15-month-old baby. How could you not love a 15-month-old baby?"

During the sixth day of testimony in Butcher's murder trial, prosecution witnesses began to put a human face on the technical medical testimony that had dominated much of the previous days of the trial. Alexa Shearer was declared brain dead Nov. 18, 1999, two days after she stopped breathing in Butcher's Sewall Avenue home; a medical examiner determined that the girl died of blunt force trauma to her head from both shaking and impact.

Alexa, Kevin Shearer said, was a petite child who loved to feed herself and who was on the verge of walking by herself.

The family began its search for a day care provider while his wife, Victoria, was still pregnant and found it difficult to find someone who had room for an infant, Shearer said.

Another day care provider referred them to Butcher, who initially said she couldn't take Alexa but later agreed to, he said. Alexa was with Butcher five days a week at first and later split the week between Butcher and another day care provider a few houses away.

After Alexa started with Butcher, the family discovered that they attended the same church and their older children went to the same school, he said.

Kevin Shearer, an architect, said he and his wife, a lawyer, would occasionally notice bruises on Alexa, but when questioned, Butcher either had not noticed them or had an explanation. They were starting to look for a new day care provider before Alexa died, he said.

In other testimony yesterday, Detective Glenn Case, the lead Howard County police investigator in the case, said that Butcher became the only suspect immediately after the chief medical examiner in Washington, Dr. Jonathan Arden, ruled Alexa's death a homicide.

Case said that although he suspected Butcher and knew the autopsy results on Nov. 19, 1999, he did not tell her about them. Instead, he said, when he went to take a statement from her on the night of Nov. 19, he told her the doctors were still trying to figure out what happened.

He didn't want to "create a situation that was adversarial," he said.

Butcher was arrested Dec. 3, 1999.

The child's parents, who had cared for her until about 7:30 a.m. Nov. 16, 1999, the day she stopped breathing, were never considered as suspects, Case said. Butcher called 911 about 1 p.m. Case said he based that on the medical examiner's findings about the timing and severity of Alexa's injuries during the autopsy exam and an earlier statement Butcher gave to another detective - a statement that said Alexa was playing and eating until just before she lost consciousness.

Under cross-examination, Case said he didn't investigate the work, medical or school records of the Shearers or their older daughter, investigate their marriage or search their house.

The parents were interviewed "after the time you pointed your finger on Kathy Butcher," defense attorney Joel M. Abramson said.

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