Boston Globe, The (MA)
Author: Megan Tench, Globe Staff, and Jack Healy, Globe
QUINCY - A Braintree woman accused of killing her son with a blow to the head, causing injuries "consistent with a fall from a multistory building," was more concerned about the well-being of her dog than her 2-year-old, prosecutors said at her arraignment in Quincy District Court yesterday.
After Natasha Higier, 47, was arrested, said Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Robert Nelson, she told officers driving her from the hospital to the police station that she was a good person, and "sometimes things just happen." She also told police that she loved and missed her dog, and that now she could go back to work at a jewelry store rather than stay home to watch her son, Nelson said.
Higier pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter as Nelson described the woman, whom neighbors called quiet and seemingly happy, as indifferent to her son's death.
Higier shook her head as Nelson detailed the last day of her son Zachary's life, which the prosecutor said began with milk and cereal, and ended with a fractured skull.
Citing police reports, Nelson said Zachary was left at home in his crib Tuesday morning as Higier drove her husband, Louis Higier, 42, to the Quincy MBTA stop.
When she returned home she served Zachary cereal for breakfast. He was playing with his toys on the kitchen floor at 11 a.m. when Higier said she went to the bathroom.
Higier told police that when she returned to the kitchen she found her son lying on the floor, barely moving his arms and legs.
Higier told police that she took the boy to his pediatrician two hours later, and the doctor called for an ambulance to rush the toddler to Quincy Medical Center, where he underwent a CAT scan, Nelson said.
Tests showed that the left side of Zachary's skull was fractured, his brain was swelling, and blood had pooled around the fracture, said Nelson. He was then taken to Children's Hospital in Boston, where he died yesterday morning.
Zachary, who was born in Russia on May 24, 2000, was adopted by the Higiers in December 2001, prosecutors said. Before and after the adoption, counselors interviewed and counseled the Higiers without finding anything amiss, said Higier's defense lawyer, William Sullivan.
"It's difficult to address the factual claims at a bail hearing," Sullivan said. "This has been a tragic incident that happened. There are a lot of facts we don't know. There are no indications of prior intent to harm this child."
The child suffered a massive stroke, said Nelson, and his injury indicates his head struck a flat object, such as a wall or the floor.
Questioning Higier's story, Nelson said there were crucial details that "could not have happened."
For example, Zachary's injuries at 1 p.m. Tuesday - when he was first taken to a doctor - were at least six hours old and occurred before 8 a.m., Nelson said, contradicting Higier's account that she found the boy on the floor at 11 a.m.
The house was also spotless when police later examined it, he added. Had the baby been injured like his mother described, Zachary would have probably regurgitated his breakfast, Nelson said.
Nelson also called into question the behavior of both Natasha and Louis Higier when Zachary died. When police questioned them at the hospital, he said, they did not encounter a couple devastated over the death of their son. Nelson said the couple were tight-lipped about what happened to Zachary.
Louis Higier laughed when he learned Zachary had been injured, then said, "I probably shouldn't say anything. I probably should get a lawyer," Nelson said. The father has not been charged in the case.
Nelson said that after her arrest, Natasha Higier wanted to go home to her dog. "She made no mention of her son Zachary at all,"
But Sullivan dismissed that assertion, saying that his client was simply concerned about the welfare of the animal since no one was at home.
Officials from the Department of Social Services said they had no contact with the Higiers. But Nelson said a neighbor who baby-sat for Zachary on Fridays noticed signs of injuries on the boy.
The neighbor said the mother said she sometimes became angry when the boy would not swallow his food, Nelson said.
Beech Street residents said the couple had lived in the neighborhood for about five years.
Harold Flater, 70, said the only times he saw Higier, who Sullivan said is a US citizen born in Latvia, and her son were when she would go for walks with Zachary and her dog, which neighbors described as a dachshund.
"She would be out pushing him around in the stroller, with that dog," Flater said.