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Baby’s Death ‘Wasn’t Right’; Firefighter Tells Md. Jury of Suspicions About Infant Girl

A firefighter who arrived at the home of Garrett Eldred Wilson in 1981, minutes after his 2-month-old daughter was found dead in her crib, testified yesterday that he told police then that the death appeared suspicious.

“The way the baby looked, it just wasn’t right,” said Mark Cashman during the second day of testimony in the trial of Wilson, 43, who is charged with first-degree murder in the 1987 death of his 5-month-old son.

“I told them there was a little bit more than met the eye,” Cashman said of Brandi Jean Wilson’s death.

Cashman told a Montgomery County Circuit Court jury that he found Brandi Jean stiff, lying face down in her crib. He said “purple blotches”–which he said might have been blood–surrounded her tiny open mouth. Haze covered her eyes, and her fists were curled in tight balls.

State’s Attorney Douglas Gansler contends that Wilson smothered Brandi Jean and his son Garrett Michael for $190,000 in insurance money that he used to support a lavish lifestyle. Wilson will be tried on a charge of first-degree murder Sept. 10 in Prince George’s County in Brandi Jean’s death.

Testimony about the deaths of both children–which were originally attributed to sudden infant death syndrome–is being allowed in this trial before Judge Ann S. Harrington because she has ruled that there was a “striking similarity” in Wilson’s profiting from the deaths.

But defense attorney Barry Helfand persuaded Harrington yesterday to halt a controversial experiment that allowed jurors to ask questions of the witnesses. Harrington had ruled previously that it would be stopped if Helfand was uncomfortable with the procedure.

Gansler, who had proposed the juror questioning, said he believes that “jurors ought to be allowed to ask questions.”

Wilson, who showed little emotion during the first day of testimony, sobbed yesterday as photographs of his dead daughter were shown.

Several witnesses who testified yesterday were questioned about the relationship Wilson had with Brandi Jean and the baby’s mother, Debbie Oliver Fennell, his second wife. Fennell’s parents, Kyle and Jean Oliver, said they could not recall ever seeing Wilson holding, feeding or even embracing his daughter.

Kyle Oliver testified that on the morning Brandi Jean was found dead, Wilson was not in the baby’s room or with his daughter. He and others testified that Wilson spent much of the day playing pool in the basement and then left to go flying with friends.

Terry Montague, a former Prince George’s County police officer who also was sent to the Wilsons’ home early on May 1, 1981, told the court he, too, didn’t see the baby’s father.

During cross-examination by Helfand, Jean Oliver testified she had a “gut feeling, intuition, a strange feeling” that Wilson had killed her granddaughter.

Other testimony yesterday focused on the two insurance policies Wilson purchased on Brandi Jean, both from men he knew.

George Smith testified that in early 1981, Wilson told him he “had a baby on the way” and wanted to purchase life insurance. He said he sold Wilson a $30,000 Lafayette Life Insurance policy.

Edward Aragona, a former insurance salesman, testified that in March 1981, Wilson “let it be known” that he wanted to purchase a $10,000 life insurance policy on his 1-month-old daughter.

Aragona, now a D.C. police officer, said that he asked Wilson if he had any other life insurance on the baby and that Wilson replied that he did not.

Aragona testified that if he had known that Wilson already had a $30,000 policy on Brandi Jean, he would have let the American National Insurance Co. decide whether to issue the policy, noting that “they probably would have rejected it.”

Hours after Brandi Jean’s body was taken from the home, Smith said, Wilson phoned him, saying he “didn’t know who else to call.”

Client Reviews
"I have watched Mr. Helfand in trial and in negotiations. He is remarkable. Mr. Helfand is extremely knowledgeable in the law, and even more knowledgeable in the ways to deal with people." Afshin Pishevar, Criminal Defense Attorney in Rockville, MD
"I strongly endorse this lawyer. I have known Mr. Helfand for many years. We have worked together on cases and represented conflicting parties. I have watched Mr. Helfand in trial and in negotiations. He is remarkable." David Felsen, Criminal Defense Attorney in Rockville, MD
"It’s one of the biggest cases that’s been tried in Montgomery County in a long time,” said Steve VanGrack, a Rockville lawyer considering a Democratic bid for state’s attorney." Washington Post