Former Sparks woman goes on trial in adopted son's 1974 death

Date: 2007-06-17

Former Sparks woman goes on trial in adopted son's 1974 death

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- A former Sparks woman is scheduled to go on trial Monday in Washoe County District Court for the death of her adopted 3-year-old son more than three decades ago.

Catherine Wyman, 68, is charged with first-degree murder in the 1974 death of James "J.W." Bader. She has pleaded not guilty and has been free on $300,000 bail.

At the time, Wyman told police that the boy died at a Reno hospital after falling off a lawn chair. The coroner ruled the death accidental, and the case was closed.

But in 2005, the boy's older sister, Julie Dunn of Chico, Calif., stepped forward with new information that led to her mother's arrest.

Among other things, Dunn said she saw her mother ram J.W.'s head into a post in their backyard, and repeatedly kick and punch him in the stomach.

Dunn, who was 15 when her brother died, told authorities that she felt guilty about not talking earlier. She said her father's 2004 death and her cancer diagnosis prompted her to seek justice for J.W.

Wyman lawyer Martin Wiener denied his client abused the boy and claimed her estranged daughter is a liar. No one can determine how or when J.W. received the fatal injury, he said.

"We expect the jury will acquit my client on all the charges," Wiener told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

A forensic pathologist who reviewed the 1974 evidence in 2005 found that J.W. had 19 facial bruises, deep scalp injuries, 23 torso bruises and three bruises on his genitals.

The review also found that his intestines split because of severe stomping or kicking. The boy died after his intestines ruptured and caused a fatal infection.

While he did not think the boy's death was a homicide at the time, the doctor who performed his autopsy in 1974 told a grand jury last year that he now thinks James died of child abuse.

Authorities blame the 1974 accidental death ruling on a lack of awareness and training in child abuse cases at the time.

Like many states, Nevada now has a child death review committee that scours autopsy reports to determine if a death was preventable. Many police departments also have their own child abuse detective unit.

Wyman's arrest last year prompted authorities in Nebraska to review the 1963 death of her 10-month-old daughter there. Authorities found no foul play.

Wyman was known as Catherine Bader when she moved to Sparks in 1964 with then-husband Larry Bader, a Reno firefighter who also had a construction business.

J.W. was adopted in 1972 or 1973 after the boy had been abandoned in a Las Vegas casino. Catherine Bader stayed at home and cared for the kids.

The Baders divorced in 1987 after their 21-year-old daughter, Tami, died of toxic shock syndrome in California.


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