Guilty verdict delivered in 1974 murder case

Date: 2007-06-30

By Jaclyn O'Malley

jomalley@rgj.com

Jurors on Friday night found a 67-year-old woman guilty in the 1974 death of her 3-year-old adopted son.

Catherine Wyman, formerly of Sparks, was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of James "J.W." Bader.

Sentencing is planned for Aug. 15 in Washoe District Court.

When J.W. died on Aug. 10, 1974, she told authorities he died after falling off a lawn chair. She testified in her own defense in the trial that began June 18 in Washoe District Court.

The case was reopened in 2005 after Wyman's estranged daughter, Julie Dunn, told police the secret that her mother brutally abused the boy, mostly kicking him in the stomach. Dunn's tip prompted a review of the case which resulted in a grand jury indictment.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Karl Hall said Wyman killed J.W. because she hated him for being a special needs child. He called her an evil and mean mother who never wanted to adopt the boy. It was her husband, Larry Bader, now deceased, who had wanted to add him to the Sparks family.

J.W. had trouble communicating and threw tantrums, was hyper, had a deformed foot and was not socialized. Dunn testified her mother became irate when J.W. missed the toilet and urine got on her bathroom floor. This caused Wyman to slam the boy's genitals on toilet seats, Dunn said.

Hall said this piece of information was important because the boy's autopsy report did not reflect any injuries to his penis, although the forensic pathologist who reviewed the case in 2005 saw in photos bruises on it consistent with the injury. Wyman testified she did J.W.'s toilet training while her husband and daughters dressed and bathed him.

"How does (Dunn) come up with that?," Hall said. "Because she saw her mother do it."

Other abuse Dunn testified to witnessing included her mother slamming his head in a backyard fence post, beating him with belts, violently kicking him down the length of their back yard, trying to drown him and placing his hands in very hot water. When his injuries were obvious, she testified Wyman blamed them on her. Wyman would sometimes pull her out of school to help her clean him up and come up with an excuse. Larry Bader would then punish Dunn.

The evidence in the case, which was overlooked by untrained officials in 1974, was more than enough to prove

J.W. died of child abuse, Hall said. Medical experts said this was a "classic case" of child abuse that slipped through the cracks. But if investigated today, would have resulted in an arrest.

Martin Wiener, Wyman's attorney, said no proof was shown that J.W. was a homicide victim.

Wiener also said the police investigation and the ruling by the coroner that J.W. died of an accidental fall from a lawn chair was correct.

Police testified the investigation was inadequate and poorly done, and that the coroner was an insurance salesman with no medical training.

Wyman said that J.W. became sick on Aug. 10, 1974, after he fell from a lawn chair while the two watched Dunn's softball game at Burgess Park in Sparks.

She said he sat on Dunn's lap and talked to them while she drove to the hospital.

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