To Face Trial In 4-year-old's Death
by CHUCK AYERS, The Morning Call
A Franconia Township couple charged in the Dec. 14 death of a 4-year-old El Salvadoran boy in their custody were bound over for Montgomery County court after a preliminary hearing in Souderton yesterday.
Peter Moyer, 33, and Christine Moyer, 35, were held for court on charges of third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of children. The proceedings were before District Justice Grant Musselman.
Halbert Fillinger, a pathologist with the medical examiner's office in Philadelphia, told the court he attributed Carlos Beltran's death to multiple injuries to the head, trunk and extremities after performing an autopsy in the early morning hours Dec. 15.
The manner of death, he determined, was homicide. He said he based his conclusion on the findings of about 38 groups of injuries, mostly bruises, on the boy's body.
The injuries included what Fillinger called "defensive injuries" used in striking the body.
Fillinger said there were also bruises to the boy's head, some fresh and some older, and internal bleeding as a result of a tear to the bowel membrane.
He said the bowel injury was a "traumatic tear due to force" which allowed its fecal contents to spill into the boy's belly.
He said the injuries could not be self-inflicted and ruled out accidental injury in the death.
"To look at the pattern of injuries would negate accidental injury," Fillinger said. He said if the injuries were sustained accidentally, it would have to have been "an accident of magnitude" - on the order of getting hit by a car or dropped from a height.
The injuries, he said, were "consistent" with evidence of child abuse.
Entered into evidence were transcripts of the Moyers' separate taped statements given police. Included was information by Mrs. Moyer admitting to administering "disciplinary" beatings to Carlos with a belt and slapping the boy in the face with her hand the night before he was discovered dead.
Several witnesses testified they saw bruises on the boy's face when they viewed the body.
Mrs. Moyer said in the statement, according to county detective Robert Davis, that the boy would drop his pants and brace himself against his bed when she administered the beatings.
Mrs. Moyer didn't realize the belt would wrap around the boy's body, also striking him on the abdomen, Davis said.
Mrs. Moyer told the detective in a interview prior to her recorded statement that authorities had told her "we probably saved his (Beltran's) life," by bringing him to the United States, Davis related. He told the court she said further that "If we had left him there, he'd probably be alive today."
Michael D. Marino, defense counsel representing Mrs. Moyer, tried to raise doubt about Fillinger's findings by suggesting his opinions were partially formed by information he received prior to the autopsy, information indicating the possibility of child abuse.
Marino also drew out Fillinger's prior knowledge that the boy was suffering from a parasite infestation and the fact someone had told him "this child had a high fever for a day or so before his demise."
Marino attempted to illustrate the caring nature of Mrs. Moyer by highlighting several doctor visits she made to obtain medical care for the boy.
The Moyers showed little emotion through most of the proceedings. Both sat calmly until Mrs. Moyer broke into tears during testimony by county detective Eugene Skerchock.
Skerchock said that after learning of the coroner's ruling in the boy's death, he told Mrs. Moyer the morning of Dec. 15 when she came to the Fanconia police station for a polygraph test that the death was "despicable." He said he told her "there was not a part of his body that wasn't bruised head to toe."
Marino said, "You wanted her to believe she hurt this boy, by your comments?"
Skerchock responded, "Yes."
The Moyers' bail was continued at $25,000 each until formal arraignment at the Montgomery County Courthouse.