'Child testifies in Md. mother's murder trial

Date: 2010-02-17
Source: google.com

By SARAH KARUSH (AP)

ROCKVILLE, Md. — A 9-year-old girl clutching a Valentine's Day teddy bear testified Wednesday in the murder trial of the woman she called her "ex-mother" and who is accused of killing the girl's sisters and putting their bodies in a freezer.

Renee Bowman is on trial in Montgomery County in the deaths of two of her adopted daughters, whose bodies were found in her Lusby home in September 2008. She has already pleaded guilty in Calvert County to abusing the surviving girl and has been sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The girl, who was 7 when she was found half-naked and covered in blood after escaping from her home, came to court with her new foster parents. Wearing a red dress and holding the big white bear with a heart on it, she stood in the witness stand and answered questions. Occasionally, she flashed a wide grin and waved at her foster parents, who were seated in the front row.

The girl said she and her sisters were kept in a locked room of the house where they lived in Rockville.

"There was a bucket where we went to the bathroom because we weren't allowed out of the room," she said.

The girl said Bowman repeatedly beat her and her sisters with a baseball bat and a shoe.

Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy asked her on what part of her body she was beaten the worst.

"The back part and the front part," she said.

Asked to demonstrate on the bear, she pointed to its backside and its crotch.

"Who hit you?" McCarthy asked.

"Ex-mother," she said. She never looked at Bowman, who was seated a few yards away.

The girl said Bowman also choked her and her sisters.

Asked how many times, she said: "I can't remember because she did it so often I couldn't keep track."

Authorities say the older girls, Jasmine and Minnet, were killed in Rockville more than three years ago, but they don't know exactly when. Minnet would have been 12 now, and Jasmine would have turned 11 on Tuesday.

Bowman, 44, moved from Rockville to Charles County and later to Lusby. Prosecutors say she brought a large freezer containing the bodies of Jasmine and Minnet with her each time she moved and continued to receive subsidies for all three children from the District of Columbia, where the girls were adopted. The subsidies are given to parents who adopt special-needs children from foster care.

The girl testified that Bowman told her Jasmine and Minnet had gone to live with a friend. She said Bowman told her that her sisters had said "that I was stupid and dumb and they didn't want to see me anymore."

Defense attorney Alan Drew asked the girl about the term "ex-mother."

"I just don't like calling her by her name," she said.

Drew didn't have an easy time cross-examining the witness. When he repeated himself at one point, she told him: "You already asked that." The courtroom erupted in laughter.

The defense had tried to argue against allowing the girl's testimony, raising questions about children's memories and the possibility that she might internalize suggestions made by adults. But Montgomery County Circuit Judge Michael J. Algeo ruled that she was a competent witness and her testimony should be allowed.

It's unclear what kind of defense Bowman's attorneys plan to mount, and they offered no clues during opening statements Wednesday.

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