Freeman case needed proof of live birth

September 21, 2007|By Gadi Dechter and Chris Guy | Gadi Dechter and Chris Guy,Sun reporters

A pathologist who examined skeletal infant remains found at Christy Lynn Freeman's Ocean City home concluded there was no way to tell if the babies had been born alive, the medical examiner's office said yesterday.

The pathologist's testimony this week before a Worcester County grand jury was a key factor in the panel's decision not to indict Freeman on murder charges, the county state's attorney said.

"In a homicide investigation, you have to prove that the victim had lived," State's Attorney Joel J. Todd said at a news conference in the county office building in Snow Hill.

Freeman and her boyfriend, Raymond Godman, were also at the government office building yesterday, and they issued a statement lambasting Ocean City police and prosecutors for rushing to judgment in a case they said amounts to "four miscarriages in five years."

Godman said later that Freeman was happy to be exonerated after nearly two months in jail, but he had sharp words for local authorities.

"If you come to Ocean City and your wife is pregnant, you better hope she doesn't have a miscarriage," he said. "Because if she does, the chief of police will charge her with murder."

The disturbing case -- which turned the family beach town into a media circus for a week in August -- had hinged on the prosecutor's ability to establish that any one of the infants whose remains were found in and around the couple's ramshackle house were ever legally "alive."

Freeman, a co-owner with Godman of the Classic Taxi cab company, was charged July 27 with first-degree murder after authorities found a dead newborn wrapped in a blanket in their bathroom. Authorities later concluded the baby was stillborn.

Then, after investigators found three older skeletal remains on the property, the first murder charge was dropped and Freeman was charged with having murdered a baby she delivered three or four years earlier.

"Maryland law says that for a child to be considered a live birth, once it has been completely expelled from the mother there has to be evidence of a child having moved spontaneously, taken a breath or pulsations in the umbilical chord," said state Chief Medical Examiner David R. Fowler.

His office determined that Freeman's most recent delivery was of a pre-term fetus that had died several days before leaving the birth canal.

But the skeletal remains proved more problematic, Fowler said. "When you're left with a skeleton, there is nothing you can do which allows you to take that first step in the investigation to say, `Yes, that child was born alive,'" he said.

There was no evidence of trauma to the tiny bones, Fowler said. Based on their size, those "infants were close to term pregnancies," he said.

Godman said Freeman was not ready to speak publicly, but that she "did nothing at all to jeopardize" her pregnancies. "Women have miscarriages every day," he said.

Freeman and Godman have four teenage children together. He said his girlfriend's more recent pregnancies were unintentional, but that the couple would have gladly raised more children.

He said he hadn't known that Freeman had stashed the remains of earlier failed pregnancies around their home.

Authorities found the remains of dead twins in a trunk in Freeman's bedroom. The body of another dead baby was found in a motor home parked outside, in a garbage bag. All three skeletal remains were several years old, officials said.

Godman said he wasn't particularly disturbed at the discoveries, and that he believes his girlfriend is healthy. "I wouldn't say she is normal, but she doesn't need counseling," he said.

"It won't happen again," he added with a laugh. "You learn lessons in life, right?"

Freeman was treated "excellently" in jail, Godman said, and is already back doing managerial work at Classic Taxi.

He said he believes Freeman simply became emotionally attached to her dead babies, a phenomenon that is common with mothers of stillborn babies.

"More women than you would think do that. They don't bury them because that would be too final," Godman said. "They just want to keep them. It's the same basic thing" with Freeman, he said.

But Michael R. Berman, a Yale University medical professor and expert on "perinatal bereavement," said that while it is common and healthy for thousands of parents of stillborn babies to have traditional burials -- even in backyard graves -- it is a troubling sign when a woman avoids medical treatment, or denies having been pregnant.

After delivering her most recent stillborn baby, Freeman did not seek medical attention for hours, and lost a dangerous amount of blood. When she was finally brought to the hospital, she at first denied having been pregnant, and then referred to her dead infant as "gloopity glop," according to police accounts.

"This is not a normal situation," Berman said. "It sounds like this woman ... has some psychological issues that transcend most women that have pregnancy losses."

Between 800,000 and 1 million pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth each year in the United States, he said.

Freeman probably would have benefited from "a lot of care" several years ago, Berman said. "She needed bereavement care when she lost her children, and she needs emotional attention. ... It sounds like this woman didn't get any of that, and nobody embraced her and said, `It's OK to grieve.'"

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

chris.guy@baltsun.com

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