Cellmate: Defendant admitted smothering her daughters
Defense poses few questions; prosecution expected to wrap up case on Friday
by Nathan Carrick
The former cellmate of a Southern Maryland woman accused of murdering two of her adopted children and storing their bodies in a freezer told a jury today the defendant said she smothered the girls.
Janette Buchmiller said while she and Renee Bowman shared a cell at the Calvert County Detention Center in 2008, Bowman told her "she smothered them with a pillow."
Bowman, 44, of Lusby is charged with two counts of murder and three counts of child abuse in Montgomery County. County police allege the two deaths occurred while the family was living in Aspen Hill from 2005 to 2007.
Her trial began Wednesday in Montgomery County Circuit Court in Rockville.
Bowman was originally indicted in Calvert County in October 2008 after neighbors found a third adopted daughter, then 7, wandering the streets near Bowman's home covered in bruises and wearing a blood-soaked shirt.
Bowman pleaded guilty to a first-degree child abuse charge in Calvert County in September and in January was sentenced to 25 years in prison by Circuit Court Judge Marjorie Clagett.
The prosecution alleges while Bowman lived in a rented house in Aspen Hill, she beat and abused all three daughters and killed two of them, Minnet, 10, and Jasmine, 8.
She then stuffed their bodies, which each weighed 52 pounds, in a chest-style freezer, which she took with her when she moved with her surviving daughter to Charles County and then Calvert County, prosecutors allege.
The State Medical Examiner's Office said the two girls died of asphyxiation.
Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy, who along with Assistant State's Attorney John Maloney is prosecuting the case, asked Buchmiller if she had been offered anything at all in return for testifying today in court.
Buchmiller said she had not.
One of Bowman's two attorneys, public defender Alan Drew, asked Buchmiller during cross-examination if she had been offered anything in return for providing information to authorities and testifying.
She said she had not.
Drew asked if she had spoken to her lawyer about the implications of testifying.
Buchmiller replied, "Am I supposed to?"
The defense attorneys have asked very few questions during two days of testimony. Bowman is also represented by public defender Ronald Gottlieb.
In the first day or two after Bowman and Buchmiller began sharing the 4-foot by 6-foot cell, the two started talking about why they were incarcerated, Buchmiller said, and Bowman told her how she smothered the two girls.
"The 9-year-old came downstairs from having a nightmare and Renee was crying," Buchmiller testified Bowman told her.
Bowman walked the girl back to her room and sat with her until she fell asleep, Buchmiller said.
"That's when she said she smothered her little girl," Buchmiller said.
In testimony on the opening day of the trial on Wednesday, prosecutors played a taped statement made by Bowman the night she was arrested in Calvert County on which Bowman said Minnet was the first to pass away. She had been ill with some kind of stomach virus and had not been eating, and then one morning Bowman discovered the girl deceased in her bed, she said on the tape.
Sometime later, in an argument with Jasmine, Bowman shook the girl by the shoulders and shoved her, at which point she fell backward and hit her head on a dresser and died instantly, she said in the recording.
On the recording Bowman also said she tried to resuscitate Jasmine but could not.
During today's testimony, Buchmiller said Bowman also told her about the abuse of the girls.
The youngest daughter sometimes broke Bowman's cigarettes to get her to stop smoking, so Bowman burned her with the butts, Buchmiller said in court.
The youngest daughter, who is now living with a new family, testified on Wednesday Bowman beat her with a baseball bat and shoe and strangled her and her two sisters so many times she lost count. She said she was often locked in her room for long periods of time and she and her sisters had to use a bucket to go to the bathroom.
All three of Bowman's daughters, for whom she collected federal assistance, were adopted in Washington, D.C., records state.
Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Algeo is overseeing the case.
The prosecution expects to call a doctor who examined the surviving daughter and the medical examiner who performed the autopsies on Minnet and Jasmine to the stand Friday morning. Maloney said the prosecution expects to finish up its case by mid-morning.