Friends back mom on trial; Evans sought assistance to address developmental challenges of adopted son.

Date: 2006-06-28

Author: Ruth Ann Krause, Post-Tribune correspondent

Friends of Natalie Fabian Evans described her as a mother trying to find help for her adopted son who exhibited strange behavior.

Evans, 36, is being tried in Lake Superior Court on charges of murder, neglect and battery in the death of 16-month-old Luke Evans. The boy died Nov. 30, 2001, from a severe brain injury caused by shaken baby syndrome.

One of Evans' friends, Virginia Charbonneau, said Tuesday she concluded a couple weeks after she first met Luke that he was mentally retarded. She and other witnesses described strange hand movements, violent rocking back and forth, head-banging and hair- and ear-pulling.

Another friend, Beth Frank, recalled when Luke first came to the United States from a Russian orphanage in May 2001 he ate a large amount of baby food. That changed, however, in the following months, she said.

On Nov. 28, 2001, the day before Luke was hospitalized for the brain injury, Frank said she and Evans were eating at Olive Garden. Frank put a bread stick in front of the child but he didn't reach for it. "There was a blank look," Frank said. Although Evans had brought along food for Luke, he ate almost nothing, Frank said.

Evans was concerned about Luke's development and had spent many hours reviewing resumes of therapists in the First Steps program, which aids developmentally delayed children, Frank said.

"She was trying to find something that would work for Luke to bring him along and she didn't feel successful about this," Frank said.

Neither Charbonneau nor Frank recalled hearing Evans say she hated Luke or wanted to give him up for adoption, as an earlier witness testified.

Meanwhile, the prosecution's final witness, Lisa Kuntz, a social worker at University of Chicago Children's Hospital, interviewed Evans and her husband together and separately about the events leading up to the child's death.

Kuntz's noted in her report that the "behavior of the patient being more interactive and happy with the father was repeated over and over by the mom."

Medics were called to the Evans' home near Lowell on Nov. 29, 2001, after Evans said she couldn't wake the child. She placed the baby in the bathtub to splash water on him and he fell back and hit his head, Evans told authorities. Afterward, she dressed the child and called 911.

When medics arrived, the child was having a seizure.

Kuntz's report said Evans told her when she went into Luke's room that morning, the child would not awaken, his eyes were slits and he was somewhat floppy. Kuntz's report said Evans "admits to shaking the baby after taking him out of the tub and he was unresponsive."


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