ALTUS - Sad and scary. Melinda Bautista has pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder in the first degree in the alleged shaking death of 10-month-old Madilyne Wentz in April 2005, and she is fighting as hard for her freedom as the state is fighting to put her away for life.
The state has the burden to prove Bautista guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
At 15 minutes before noon Thursday, after 3 1/2 days of grueling voir dire, the jury was seated — six men, six women and two male alternates.
By 2 p.m. the jury had been sworn in by Associate District Judge David Barnett and given instructions.
Assistant District Attorney Stephen Booker laid out the facts of the case as seen through the eyes of the state.
On Tuesday afternoon, April 12, 2005, Madilyne was rushed to Jackson County Memorial Hospital in critical condition, and she died on Thursday morning at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa from injuries suffered “at the hands of the defendant,” Booker said.
He placed the beginning of Madilyne’s story at the day she was born, May 17, 2004, in Springfield, Mo., to Mathew and Rachel Wentz.
The young couple began divorce proceedings shortly after Madilyne’s birth, Booker said, and the animosity between them grew. “Why do I mention this?” he asked. “Because this will be used against Mathew and Rachel.”
Rachel’s job with a cable company required her to travel, Booker said. She took the baby to a small town in Missouri, where Madilyne became ill with an ear infection.
Rachel, he said, took Madilyne to a doctor and faithfully provided the infant with the medications prescribed.
Booker told the jury that they will hear from a doctor who will say that Rachel took Madilyne in for periodic well-baby checks and that the child was growing and developing normally.
Dr. Richard Temofeew, of Nixa, Mo., Madilyne’s pediatrician up until she was seven months old, was the only witness to appear Thursday afternoon. He testified that he first saw Madilyne on May 21, four days after her birth, and the child never showed any signs of abuse or significant health problems.
On cross examination by defense attorney Stephen Jones, Temofeew acknowledged that Madilyne had symptoms of minor maladies: fussiness and screaming at night as well as gastro-esophageal reflux, which could indicate possible colic, in July 2004, and a flat spot on the back of the head caused by sleeping position in December of that year.
After Rachel’s job finished in Missouri, Booker continued, she came to Altus, where she stayed with a couple of co-workers at the Friendship Inn. Rachel inquired with the state Department of Human Services office in Altus about a daycare for Madilyne and decided to entrust the child with Bautista, at her home facility at 20040 E. County Road 1586.
Booker told the jury that they will hear from Sue Sumner, Madilyne’s grandmother, about her trip to Buffalo, Mo., to bring Madilyne to Altus, about Madilyne’s behavior, and how Rachel’s co-workers considered Madilyne a “playful child.”
On the fourth day of Madilyne’s care with Bautista, April 12, 2005, Booker said, Rachel got up as normal and gave the baby a bath and noticed that she was pulling at her ear. Rachel, he said, gave Madilyne medication and she acted normal. At around 12:30 p.m. that day she took Madilyne to Bautista’s daycare, and that, Booker said, would be the last time she would see her daughter truly alive.
Booker explained the arrival of Jackson County EMS personnel, Madilyne’s treatment at JCMH and her arrival at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa with subdural and subarachnoid hemorrhage. Rachel, he said, drove to the hospital and stayed with Madilyne some 36 hours before her death.
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is what began as a series of unfortunate and tragic events,” Booker told the jury. Madilyne, he said, “died at the hands of the defendant, Melinda Bautista.”
Jones began the defense statement by emphasizing that the most critical period in the death of Madilyne Wentz is the three hours commencing with the 9-11 call made by his client, Bautista, at 4:33 p.m. April 12, 2005. The most important evidence to be presented in this case, Jones said, is not testimony from witnesses but the medical records kept by Jackson County EMS and JCMH. Madilyne, he said, “could not recover once she left JCMH.”
“I believe that you will conclude that this is a sad story,” Jones told the jurors. A life was lost, he said, and another life is in jeopardy. It is also a scary story, Jones said, the story of “a rush to judgment and about unprofessional conduct.”
Jones touched on the evidence to be provided around what he calls the controversy of shaken baby syndrome. “It’s a theory, a controversial theory, and you will hear about it,” he told the jury.
Jones, and prominent doctors he will call to the witness stand, will argue that Madilyne died of deprivation of oxygen to the brain.
The evidence to be presented, Jones said, “will not resemble what you have been led to believe from third party sources.”
Rachel Sumner (formerly Rachel Wentz), Jones said, lived with Madilyne at the Friendship Inn with two men — one of them who has multiple felony convictions, another with drug and alcohol addiction.
Jones put forth the chronology of events that day, April 12, 2005. At 1:30 p.m., he said, Rachel and the baby arrived at the daycare and Rachel told Bautista that the child hadn’t been feeling well. Indeed, the child had slept for 15 1/2 hours, he said.
Bautista had called Rachel about 9 a.m. that day, Jones said, because she was concerned that she had not arrived. At about 4:20 p.m., Madilyne, who was in a bouncy seat, began to cry, so Bautista changed her diaper and gave her some formula. Shortly afterward, the baby began to gurgle, and phlegm and liquid were coming out of her mouth. Bautista shook the bouncy seat to see if she could get any reaction from the child, Jones said, then she shouted, “You OK? You OK?” Bautista then carried the child to the kitchen, wiped her mouth and placed her on the counter to administer rescue breaths, Jones said, while at the same time calling 9-11. “A recording is made of a frightening telephone call,” Jones said.
It took some eight minutes for EMS to arrive, he said, adding that evidence will be presented to show that no effort was made by EMS personnel to suction the child, that EMS did not take the child’s blood pressure, that there was an inappropriate use of atropine and that Madilyne had been given 10 times the normal dose of epinephrine.
Bautista, Jones said, paid for Rachel and her boyfriend to go to Tulsa.
Then, Jones said, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation lied to his client, drawing her into a two-hour videotaped session April 13, 2005, in which agents Melissa Gann and Perry Unruh conducted “one of the most remarkably unprofessional interviews in the history of the state of Oklahoma.”
The jury will watch this interview, during which, Jones said, the agents tell Bautista 27 times they “know what happened.” Fourteen times she tells them that she did not shake the baby. Twenty-three times they tell her that she did. Nine times the agents claim they have spoken to a neurosurgeon and seen the MRI. There was no neurosurgeon and there was no MRI, Jones said. Twenty-two times the agents tell Bautitsa, “I know you didn’t intend to hurt the baby.” Twenty-seven times they say, “You lost control.” Eleven times they say, “The child may not live, you’re in a serious predicament.”
The threats don’t end there, Jones said, pointing to a final statement that, he said, the jury will hear on the videotape: “(District Attorney) John Wampler will ask for the death penalty, and he’ll get it.”
In summation, Jones told the jurors, “This baby was not shaken to death. ... This was a rush to judgment by people who knew better.”
The trial was to resume at 9:30 a.m. today.