Evidence to be kept secret

Prosecutors will take case to grand jury, avoid public hearing

August 01, 2007|By Gadi Dechter and Justin Fenton | Gadi Dechter and Justin Fenton,Sun reporters

OCEAN CITY -- As the grim search for more remains continued outside an Ocean City woman's home, prosecutors in the homicide case that has roiled this beach resort said yesterday that they would take their evidence to a grand jury and forgo an open preliminary hearing scheduled for this month.

Though FBI crime-scene investigators worked all day, no additional remains were found yesterday at the ramshackle Sunset Drive house where police allege that Christy L. Freeman, 37, killed and hid her stillborn 26-week-old baby and where skeletal remains of three other tiny bodies were later found hidden.

Shielded from a 90-degree heat by red canopies, teams of investigators dug a foot into the ground and sifted through dirt in a vacant lot beside Freeman's house.

Meanwhile, Ocean City Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said she was bringing in a domestic violence expert to examine the extensive bruising found on Freeman's body when she was taken to a hospital last week. According to charging documents, Freeman, who has four children, had about 20 bruised areas, including on her inner thighs and stomach.

"The bruising is unusual," DiPino said. "We want to figure out exactly how those bruises occurred, whether they were self-inflicted or inflicted by someone else."

Police spokesman Barry Neeb said Freeman "explained away the small bruises as accidents."

DiPino said Freeman's longtime boyfriend and business partner, Raymond W. Godman Jr. of Ocean City, is not a "prime suspect" and has been cooperating with investigators.

Freeman, co-owner of a popular taxi business, was charged Friday with first- and second-degree murder after police found a dead baby swaddled in a bloody blanket in the bathroom of her apartment, police charging documents say.

Godman found her unconscious and bleeding, and paramedics took her to an Ocean City hospital, police said. Doctors concluded that she had recently given birth, prompting the search.

A preliminary examination of the body by the state medical examiner has not conclusively determined a cause of death, but Worcester County State's Attorney Joel J. Todd has said that Freeman "did something to terminate that pregnancy."

Under a 2005 state law, someone who intentionally causes the death of a "viable fetus" can be prosecuted for murder.

The law shields from prosecution "an act or failure to act of a pregnant woman with regard to her own fetus," and some legal experts doubt whether Todd can prosecute Freeman under that law.

Before being denied bail Monday, Freeman told a judge that she would "clear my name."

Bob Apy, a driver for Classic Taxi, which Freeman and Godman established in 2002, said yesterday that Godman has been staying in area hotels with the couple's four teenage children. Apy said Godman feels hounded by the news media and should be left to care for his children.

"Let the justice system deal with legal matters and leave the innocents alone," he said.

Monday night or early yesterday morning, four vintage American cars used by the taxi service were vandalized at Classic Taxi's garage in West Ocean City, Apy said. Since the Freeman case made national news this week, he said, he and fellow drivers have been yelled at and been the targets of "physical threats" from passers-by in Ocean City.

Another driver reported "people screaming at fares, telling them they're sitting on dead babies," Apy said.

Freeman was charged with first-degree murder after consultation with prosecutors, DiPino said.

Neeb said Freeman was charged "based on what [investigators] found and learned after interviewing her."

"She was pretty frank and open in her discussions about this and her activities," he said.

By taking his case to a grand jury, Todd can present evidence in a secret proceeding that he controls instead of in an open preliminary hearing at which witnesses could be cross-examined.

Authorities stood by the murder charges yesterday, which came under scrutiny when a preliminary medical examiner's report found that the 26-week-old baby had been stillborn.

Police said the medical examiner had not conclusively determined that all four sets of remains were biologically related to Freeman, though DiPino said the evidence pointed in that direction. The coroner has also not determined the age of the three other sets of skeletal remains found by police late last week, officials said.

The deliveries of those babies must have occurred before 2005 for prosecutors to apply the "viable fetus" statute.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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