Mother won't receive new trial for son's death

Date: 2007-07-28

By Jaclyn O'Malley

jomalley@rgj.com

A 68-year-old former Sparks woman convicted last month for the 1974 kicking death of her adopted, developmentally disabled toddler won't get a new trial, a judge ruled Friday.

Washoe District Judge Jerome Polaha also denied Catherine Wyman's request for an acquittal or conviction on a lesser charge and said she could not be released on bail before her scheduled sentencing on Aug. 15.

Wyman, formerly Catherine Bader, was convicted of second-degree murder following a jury trial where she testified on her own behalf. Her estranged daughter, Julie Bader-Dunn, was the main witness. Bader-Dunn came forward in 2005 following her father's death and multiple bouts with cancer.

When James "J.W." Bader, 3, died on Aug. 10, 1974, Wyman said he had fallen off a lawn chair at his sister's softball game. The coroner, an insurance salesman with no medical training, ruled his death an accident despite a pathologist's findings that the little boy's intestines ruptured and caused a fatal infection.

But after Bader-Dunn came forward and said she had seen her mother repeatedly kick J.W. in the stomach, ram his head into fence posts and slam toilet seats on his genitals, the case was reopened. She said she had been too frightened to come forward as a teen and feared her father, a Reno fireman, would kill her mother.

A forensic pathologist reviewed J.W.'s autopsy and said he was severely abused and was a homicide victim.

Authorities said this case was a "classic example" of how a lack of child abuse awareness in the 1970s let J.W.'s murder slip through the cracks.

Polaha, in denying Wyman's request for a new trial, said he agreed with jurors.

"When Mrs. Wyman took the stand (J.W.) was referred to as 'the kid'... no maternal things had come out," Polaha said. "She even said she never combed his hair and he was a 3-year-old boy. I imagine that impacted the jury."

Wyman's attorney, Martin Wiener also took issue with Bader-Dunn's psychiatric treatments and said without being able to access her medical records, it impaired him to have possibly impeached her testimony. He said information in those records could lead him to again request a new trial. Polaha said he would consider the issue later.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Karl Hall told Polaha that Wiener admitted his client killed J.W. when he asked him to convict her of a lesser charge. He also said any minor inconsistencies with Bader-Dunn's testimony had more to do with the incident occurring more than 30 years ago and her being 15 at the time.

Her testimony corroborated the evidence, Hall said. During the trial he said Wyman severely abused J.W. because she could not handle his developmental disabilities and she had never wanted to adopt him.

Wyman of Arizona was arrested last year after she was indicted.

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