Md. woman is convicted of killing, freezing adopted girls

Renee Bowman could get life sentence without parole

February 23, 2010|By Dan Morse | The Washington Post

A Maryland woman described by prosecutors as a torturer and maimer of her adopted girls was convicted Monday of killing two of them and stuffing their bodies into a freezer, and inflicting more than 80 injuries on the third.

"What she did was absolutely horrendous," said Laurence Foley, foreman of the jury that deliberated for about 90 minutes inside a Montgomery County courthouse. "There was an overwhelming amount of evidence."

The case stunned the region and cast a spotlight on the District of Columbia's child welfare agency, which had allowed Renee Bowman, 44, to adopt the three girls. She collected $152,000 for raising the children, according to trial testimony, with many payments arriving after she had killed the two girls and put their bodies in the freezer.

"This woman was in it for the money. And by killing the children, keeping them literally on ice, the money continued to flow," Montgomery County prosecutor John McCarthy said during his closing argument.

The children she killed, Minnet and Jasmine, would have been 12 and 11 now. Their bodies, weighing 52 pounds each, were found in September 2008. Detectives could not determine when they were killed but said that they had been asphyxiated, and that their bodies could have been in the freezer for more than two years.

Bowman, who faces a possible sentence of life in prison without parole, sat impassively as the five-count verdict was read, her hands clasped on a table in front of her as they had been for much of the four-day trial. She cocked her head slightly as one of the child-abuse findings was read.

During the trial, jurors learned a lot about Bowman. She kept the three girls in her Rockville house, inside a bedroom with the locks reversed. She forced them to use a bucket as a toilet, and beat them with a bat and a high-heeled shoe. She moved to Charles County and Calvert County with the bodies of the two girls inside the freezer, prosecutors said.

They presented e-mails that Bowman had written in recent years, showing her carrying on as if nothing was wrong.

To one friend, she joked about dispensing discipline: "I'm like the WARDEN . . . THEY HATE IT. hahaaha. How are you? You doing alright? How's your thyroid and stuff?"

And to an adoption agency in South Carolina, she wrote that she wanted to add a boy to her family. "I am very much interested in Cameron. He would make a lovely addition to our loving home."

The horror to which Bowman subjected the children first came to light about 17 months ago. A badly beaten 7-year-old girl was found walking down a street in Lusby, about 55 miles southeast of Washington. She told residents who came to her aid that she had just jumped out of the second-floor window of her home.

The girl became the most compelling witness in the trial. In heart-wrenching detail, she talked about how her "ex-mother" choked her so many times she couldn't count, and how Bowman had also choked Minnet and Jasmine. (The girl is being raised by foster parents in Calvert.)

After her two older sisters were no longer in the house, the girl testified, Bowman told her that the girls left to live somewhere else because they thought their younger sister was stupid and didn't like her. But on the witness stand, the girl, who is 9, came across as sharp and poised, at one point politely correcting a defense attorney for repeating his question.

"She's a beautiful girl," said Foley, the jury foreman. "The prosecutors called her 'the miracle child.' It was kind of over the top. But she really was."

Foley and two other jurors pointed to other compelling evidence against Bowman, including the results of the slain girls' autopsies and a recording played in court of Bowman speaking to detectives in 2008 in Calvert. Bowman told them the children had passed away in Rockville, and they'd been wrapped up and placed inside a freezer.

"Who wrapped them up in the blanket?" Detective Ronnie Naughton asked.

"I did," Bowman said, her voice starting to crack.

"Who put them in the plastic bag?"

"I did."

"Who put them in the freezer?"

"I did."

"And who put the ice on them?"

"I did."

In his closing argument, defense attorney Alan Drew said Bowman told detectives that the children died by causes other than asphyxiation: Minnet, after she had stopped eating, and Jasmine, after she had fallen and hit her head.

During their deliberations, jurors quickly concluded that Bowman was guilty of first-degree child abuse of all three girls and first-degree murder of Jasmine, according to three jurors interviewed. The panel then deliberated whether to convict Bowman of premeditated or non-premeditated murder in the case of Minnet.

One witness who pushed them to the higher charge was Janet Buchmiller, Bowman's former cellmate in the Calvert County jail, who said Bowman confessed to her that she had smothered two of her children with a pillow. "She told Buchmiller the real secret," said juror Alex Roberts, 18. "She felt comfortable telling her what really happened."

Prosecutors also described how police found a lengthy printout of testimony from a D.C. child abuse case in Bowman's house. Prosecutor John Maloney suggested that she was preparing her defense should her crimes be discovered.

"Who has night reading of grand-jury testimony, over an inch thick, from a D.C. child abuse case?" Maloney asked jurors, holding up the court document.

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