Jury begins deliberating today in 1974 death of toddler

Date: 2007-06-29

By Jaclyn O'Malley

jomalley@rgj.com

Jurors today will begin deciding if a developmentally disabled toddler died in 1974 at the hands of his adoptive mother or if his death was a tragic accident from what she claimed then was a fall off a lawn chair.

Prosecutors handling Catherine Bader Wyman's murder trial say she hated her son and severely abused him,

But during cross-examination Thursday, the 67-year-old Wyman said she loved James "J.W." Bader and that he was "fun" and "just a boy." The former Sparks woman has pleaded not guilty to his murder.

"I didn't do it," she shouted to the jurors.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Karl Hall had pointed to the numerous bruises on J.W.'s head and body in autopsy photos shown to jurors on a screen. He asked her how he got each one of them.

"I don't know," she said. "I never saw them."

Behind her were diagrams of a baby's body where a forensic pathologist had filled in several markings to symbolize the more than two dozen bruises on J.W.'s body when he died.

"You really didn't like this guy, did you?" Hall said.

"I loved that baby," she cried.

Fatal infection

J.W. died after his intestines split and caused a fatal infection, a forensic pathologist said after reviewing the evidence in 2005.

"Didn't you, as his mother, have the responsibility of making sure the boy didn't get hurt?" Hall asked. "Why was J.W. afraid of you?"

"I don't know that to be true," she said.

The only injury for which she had a possible explanation was a large gash on the top of his head that she said her daughter's softball teammates might have caused by running their fingers through his hair while he wore a baseball cap.

Wyman said she only had spanked J.W. or grounded him.

Medical experts said the boy's fatal injury was only possible with severe, violent blows to the abdomen, consistent with kicking, falling off a roof or being a car crash victim. A forensic pathologist for the defense said the injury was not the result of blunt force trauma and that the boy had unhealthy intestines.

His mother told police and hospital staff the day he died that he became sick after falling off a lawn chair at her daughter's softball game. Doctors immediately suspected child abuse and called police.

Daughter's testimony

Wyman's daughter, Julie Bader Dunn, testified her mother kicked J.W. in the stomach along the length of their backyard shortly before they left for the game.

"Did you kick him all the time in the stomach and beat his head in?" Hall asked her.

"Don't think so," Wyman replied during a heated confrontation with Hall, a contrast from her smiling testimony during her attorney's questioning.

Dunn testified her mother abused the boy daily. She said extreme guilt and the death of her father, retired Reno firefighter Larry Bader, caused her to call police. She said her mother made her keep the abuse a secret because Wyman said that Larry Bader would kill Dunn and split the family.

"She said she was going to burn in hell for what she did to J.W.," Dunn said.

Testimony revealed that authorities untrained in child abuse cases let a "classic case" of child abuse slip through the cracks when J.W.'s death was ruled an accident in the 1970s.

Wyman of Arizona has been on trial since June 18. She said she has not talked to Dunn since her daughter wrote her a letter in 1995 stating Dunn never wanted to speak to Wyman again. No reason was offered. But Dunn, who said she has disliked her mother since she killed J.W., later allowed her son to live with Wyman in Las Vegas.

Jurors were shown a videotaped interview Wyman had with Sparks detectives last year in suburban Phoenix. She told them she never asked about how her son died and never knew his specific injuries until the interview. Each time detectives asked how or why the boy could have received such a horrific injury, she took long pauses and said she did not know.

Detective Rick Laffins testified the defendant's husband, James Wyman, received a letter five years ago in which Dunn said her mother killed the boy.

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