Defense: No proof dad killed tots: Father is suspected of slaying two babies to collect insurance

Garrett Wilson’s attorney said yesterday that prosecutors have a motive – $190,000 in insurance payments – but no scientific or factual evidence that his client killed a baby daughter in 1981 and a baby son in 1987.

“Motive may cause some suspicion but does not prove anything,” said Barry Helfand, urging the eight-man, four-woman jury to tell themselves, “I have suspicions. There was a motive. There’s just no proof.”

Mr. Wilson, 43, is on trial in Montgomery County on the charge of murdering his 5 1/2-month-old namesake. But Circuit Judge Ann Harrington is allowing information from his 2 1/2-month-old daughter’s death because of similarities in the cases.

The prosecution in opening arguments described Mr. Wilson as selfish and materialistic.

“He is a floater and a loafer who spent money without restraint and then was willing to kill to support his lifestyle,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas Gansler, prosecuting his first major case since his election last year.

“That man,” Mr. Gansler said, nodding at the chunky, black-haired Mr. Wilson, “the father of Brandi Jean and Garrett Michael, killed his own babies. And he did it for greed.”

No one saw the babies die, medical examinations showed no injuries and nobody knows how they died, Mr. Helfand said, while conceding that Mr. Wilson received insurance payments.

Mr. Helfand emphasized that the deaths of both babies were attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome until police and prosecutors learned of the insurance in 1994, when Mr. Wilson’s third wife, Mary “Missy” Anastasi, told police her ex-husband was responsible for their son’s death.

Then, Mr. Helfand said in his opening statements, the medical examiners amended autopsy reports years later to show the cause of the deaths was “probable suffocation.”

Mr. Wilson is scheduled for an October trial in Prince George’s County in the 1981 death of Brandi Jean Wilson.

Mr. Gansler said Mr. Wilson collected $40,000 from the death of Brandi and $150,000 after Garrett’s death.

The first witness, Deborah “Debbie” Oliver Fennell, 35, now living in Churchton, Md., cried as she was shown pictures of their daughter in the couple’s Fort Washington home.

Mrs. Fennell said she was 11 and he was 19 when they met in a Baptist church in 1976. By the time she was 15, Mrs. Fennell said, she had had four abortions, arranged by Mr. Wilson without her parents’ knowledge.

In the 11th grade at Friendly High School, she had split with Mr. Wilson but found she was pregnant again. A doctor barred a fifth abortion, saying it was dangerous.

She became Mr. Wilson’s second wife on Oct. 12, 1980, because “I felt it was the right thing to do,” Mrs. Fennell said.

When she was seven months pregnant, “he asked me if I thought I would be OK if anything ever happened to the baby,” she said.

Mrs. Fennell said she had been sick with the flu two days before the fatal night, April 30, 1981, and had been taking over-the-counter medications, but Brandi seemed fine. She said their baby was healthy, normal and typically woke crying during nights.

Mrs. Fennell’s mother put Brandi to bed – she was always placed on her stomach to sleep – and Mr. Wilson gave his bride “three or four pills.”

“He said they were vitamins,” she testified, saying earlier that Mr. Wilson never put the baby to bed, fed or diapered her.

Mrs. Fennell slept soundly for the first time and was awakened the next morning by her parents.

“My daddy told me my Brandi was dead,” Mrs. Fennell said. “Garrett . . . told them that Brandi had died.”

Mrs. Fennell said her husband “was downstairs in the basement playing pool” that morning.

In cross examination, Mr. Helfand indicated Mrs. Fennell had told police she knew about the insurance, but yesterday, she said she knew nothing about it. She did testify that “he started to spend money again.”

“He came home with a car, a Trans Am,” Mrs. Fennell recalled about her husband, who had been employed selling pianos.

Mrs. Fennell said she never called authorities about the death of Brandi and, in 1994, resisted talking to police and Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney David Boynton. For the first time in Montgomery County, jurors are being allowed to ask questions. Their four written questions, screened and posed by Judge Harrington, determined that Mr. Fennell worked until the piano store closed at 9:30 p.m. and typically got home about 11 p.m.