Pathologist: Defendant suffocated baby

Garrett E. Wilson suffocated his baby daughter by pressing her face firmly against her crib mattress, a forensic pathologist testified in his murder trial yesterday.

The absence of blood pooling in 2-month-old Brandi Jean’s forehead and nose after her death illustrates how Mr. Wilson pushed her face flat down, said Dr. Linda Norton, an expert on child deaths.

“The face was pushed into a firm surface – probably the mattress,” Dr. Norton testified in the Montgomery County Circuit Court. “The airway was blocked until the child died.”

Dr. Norton’s testimony came as county prosecutors rested their case against Mr. Wilson, who is charged with murdering his 5 1/2-month-old son, Garrett Michael, in 1987. He is scheduled for trial in Prince George’s County in October on a charge that he killed his daughter, Brandi Jean.

Prosecutors say Mr. Wilson, 43, killed his two children for $190,000 in insurance money. In each case, Mr. Wilson was the last person to see the infants alive.

Garrett Michael must have died from suffocation because his lungs were filled with oxygen after his death, said Chief Maryland Medical Examiner John Smialek. The presence of oxygen indicates an obstructed airway that would have prevented it from escaping, Dr. Smialek said.

“He died of suffocation because of an obstruction of his airway,” he said. “The manner of his death was homicide.”

Dr. Norton said the fact that Mr. Wilson bought insurance policies on his children also led her to believe he killed the infants.

Defense attorney Barry H. Helfand called his first witness yesterday, the Rev. Joseph Edmonds of the First Baptist Church of Ballston, Va. He said he spoke with Mr. Wilson the day his daughter died.

“He was crying,” Mr. Edmonds said of Mr. Wilson. “He was disturbed. He was in a state of shock.”

Mr. Wilson took notes on a legal pad, shuffled through papers and whispered to his attorneys during his trial yesterday. The former piano salesman showed no emotion throughout the day’s testimony.

Mr. Helfand renewed his call for a mistrial yesterday because he said Dr. Norton’s testimony about sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) conflicted with testimony provided Monday by former State Medical Examiner Charles P. Kokes. Judge Ann S. Harrington rejected his request again.

Medical examiners originally said both children died from SIDS, but they changed the cause of Garrett Michael’s death to homicide-suffocation. Medical examiners changed the cause of Brandi Jean’s death to “probable suffocation” by an “undetermined” source.

Dr. Kokes said he changed his opinion about Garret Michael’s death, in part, because there is only a one in 1 million chance a family can have two babies die of the syndrome. Dr. Norton amended those odds to one in 4 million yesterday.

“The numbers she has given don’t add up,” Mr. Helfand said about Dr. Norton. “The cumulative affect of all this is very dangerous for my client.”

Mr. Helfand tried to show that Dr. Norton and Dr. Smialek were basing their claims not on science but on hearsay and opinions. He cited their failure to independently confirm information provided by the police. Mr. Helfand also got Dr. Norton to concede there is no guarantee the syndrome cannot be passed on genetically.

Mr. Helfand will call more witnesses today. The trial will likely end tomorrow.