A mother gets home to find her infant Mariah’s head lolling from side to side when she holds her in her arms. The mother asks Mariah’s father, who had been looking after the baby, “What happened?!” He says he doesn’t know and that the child was fine when he put her to sleep. The parents rush Mariah to the hospital and, when the doctors examine her, they immediately call the police to investigate.
Special Guest: Detective David
When retired Detective David started out in law enforcement in 2002, his agency was so small they doubled as both police officers and firefighters, carrying their dual-purpose gear in the trunk of their patrol cars. After three years of doing double duty, David was promoted to detective. He has also served as a Patrol Sergeant and was elected Under Sheriff of his county in 2011. In 2013, David transferred back to detectives and finished out his career as an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office, until he retired in 2018.
Yeardley: [00:00:03] This case describes a crime against an infant. The descriptions are graphic. So, please be warned, but it also leads to a hopeful discussion between the detectives about the important work they do in recognizing these signs of child abuse and the ways they’re able to successfully intervene and bring about a more positive outcome for other victims. This is The Imposition.
[00:00:31] When a serious crime is committed in a small town, a handful of detectives are charged with solving the case. I’m Yeardley, and I’m fascinated by these stories. So, I invited my friends, detectives Dan and Dave to help me gather the best true crime cases from around the country and have the men and women who investigated them tell us how it happened.
Dan: [00:00:57] I’m Dan.
Dave: [00:00:57] And I’m Dave. We’re identical twins from small town USA.
Dan: [00:01:01] Dave investigated sex crimes and crimes against children. He’s now a patrol sergeant at his police department.
Dave: [00:01:08] Dan investigated violent crimes. He’s now retired. Together, we have more than two decades experience and have worked hundreds of cases. We’ve altered names, places, relationships, and certain details in these cases to maintain the privacy of the victims and their families.
Dan: [00:01:23] So, we ask you to join us in protecting their true identities as well as the locations of these crimes out of respect for everyone involved. Thank you.[Small Town Dicks theme]
Yeardley: [00:01:38] Today on Small Town Dicks, we have the usual suspects. We have Detective Dan.
Dan: [00:01:44] Good afternoon.
Yeardley: [00:01:46] [giggles] And we have Detective Dave.
Dave: [00:01:47] Happy to be here.
Yeardley: [00:01:48] And we are so pleased to welcome back a fan favorite, retired Detective David.
David: [00:01:53] Good afternoon.
Yeardley: [00:01:54] Thank you for being here.
David: [00:01:55] You bet.
Yeardley: [00:01:56] So, Detective David, please tell us how this case that you’re going to tell us about today, how this case came to you?
David: [00:02:03] At the time, I was working for the city police department in the town I lived in, I was a detective. I was in the detective division by then. And it happened over the weekend. I wasn’t on call, and when I came in on Monday, I talked with the detective that I shared an office with. We basically operated as partners and he told me about the case that he got called out on in which an infant was taken to the hospital with serious head injury and was concerned about how it happened and he asked me to help him with it. He was on the verge of retiring and he had a lot more experience at the time than I did. I’d only been on the force for four years at that time.
[00:02:49] Anyway, he was getting ready to retire, so he started funneling cases towards me that he didn’t want to deal with. So, yeah, I took it for sure. But it involved a 35-day old baby that was taken to the hospital. And doctor at the hospital determined that this was not an accidental injury, like the father was saying.
Dave: [00:02:49] What was the explanation the father was giving? I already have a guess.
David: [00:03:16] The baby, Mariah, fell off the bathroom counter as he was giving it a bath. Is that close to your guess?
Dave: [00:03:22] It was going to be a fall. Usually, it’s off the couch or out of the crib. And we know that a 35-day old baby, they don’t crawl.
David: [00:03:31] They can’t even roll over.
Dave: [00:03:32] Right.
Dan: [00:03:33] One of the things over the years, my brother, Dave, he investigated sex crimes and child abuse, and he’s put on many trainings in this very room that we’re in. I’ve sat here and he’s got a slide on his PowerPoint presentation of the usual suspects. And it’s usually the couch. Fell off the couch, fell off the bed, counter is about the same height.
Dave: [00:03:56] Stairs.
Dan: [00:03:57] stairs.
Dave: [00:03:57] Or, I love this one. The sibling. The adults didn’t do it. It was his sibling, hit him in the head and gave him a skull fracture. Really? Three-year-old carries that kind of power or bite wounds. It must have been the sibling. Well, does that sibling have an adult size mouth? They didn’t do the bite, you did. Probably during a changing or feeding.
David: [00:04:17] Sure. Well, the doctor determined that the police needed to be called suspicious circumstances revolving around a serious child injury. And so, he notified the police, and the police went up there, and initially took statements from Lucas.
Yeardley: [00:04:32] Lucas is the dad?
David: [00:04:33] Lucas is the dad, and Angela, the mom. The doctor then ordered the baby flown to an infant trauma care center for advanced trauma treatment. And so, the baby was flown down there, was determined to be brain dead, and they put little Mariah on life support, and we continued the investigation. So, Lucas says that he was bathing Mariah while Angela was at work, because Lucas doesn’t work. Now, remember, Mariah is 35 days old. So, Angela is already back to work.
Yeardley: [00:05:09] Oh, wow.
David: [00:05:10] So, Angela was at work and she came home and found Mariah unresponsive.
Yeardley: [00:05:17] Like in the crib or something?
David: [00:05:19] Yeah, probably in the crib. But she picked her up and she was limp and she wouldn’t eat and she says, “Mariah is always hungry when I get home.” She’s been at work. “And if the caretaker doesn’t give them food, they’re going to be hungry.” The first thing a mother is going to want to do when she comes home is hold her baby. That’s just the way it is. And she tells, “Lucas, what’s the matter with her?” And then Lucas says, “I don’t know. She was crying earlier.” She told us that Mariah’s head would just keep flopping back and she was unresponsive. And so, she said, “Well, we need to take her to the emergency room.” And Lucas says, “No, let’s wait till Monday.”
Yeardley: [00:05:57] Monday?
David: [00:05:58] Yeah. This was on a Sunday. Yeah, this happened Sunday. He wanted to wait till the next day to take her to a private doctor, hoping either Mariah would get better, would become responsive, and there would not be a need to. So, Angela says, “No, we’re taking her.” So, she took her to the hospital, and then, like I said earlier, the doctor notified police. And so, Lucas said that while he was babysitting, Angela told the police that she was at work and Lucas was taking care of it. So, now everything shifted straight to Lucas.
[00:06:30] So, now we start questioning him pretty hard and he says that the baby was on the bathroom counter and he was bathing her. He really went to the extremes. He said, “I put baby oil in the bathwater to make her skin soft.” No, you put the oil on after, not in the baby water. But he wanted to make oil and water slippery, slippery. He’s trying to make it where this baby is really slippery. And then he says that she fell off of there and that caused her injury.
[00:06:59] Well, I wasn’t buying that and I told him, I said, “Lucas, come on now. People are going to look at you as being awful person. I think an accident happened here, but you don’t want them to think you’re a liar. You want to be portrayed as telling the truth. Everybody can understand an accident happening, but nobody can stand a liar.”
[00:07:22] Then he changes his story to, “Well, she did fall off the counter, but she was okay. And I picked her up and I went to go put her down on the mattress in the living room. As I went to put her down on the mattress in the living room, I wasn’t paying attention and she missed the mattress.”
Yeardley: [00:07:42] Is the mattress on the floor in the living room?
David: [00:07:45] Yes.
Yeardley: [00:07:45] Well, first of all, the 35-day old baby can’t roll over.
David: [00:07:48] Right. The way he demonstrated it in the interview room was, “I went to lay her down. I was holding her up by my shoulder, and I had my hand behind her head, and I went to put her down. I guess, I wasn’t paying attention, and I missed the mattress, and she hit the hard floor instead.”
Yeardley: [00:08:04] Oh, come on.
David: [00:08:04] I said, “Okay, that might have happened, but I don’t think it happened quite that way.” And so, I pretty much left him alone at that point. I’d let the interview right then end with just him saying that, because at least we got him changed his story to that much. He wasn’t charged yet. He’d come in voluntarily. So, we took that statement, and we left it at that, and then we waited to see the outcome of what happened to the baby.
[00:08:32] So, the baby was taken off life support, a couple of days later. She was on life support about three days and then she’s taken off life support. Poor Mariah, she lived two more days off life support. That’s how bad she wanted to live. And then she passed away. And so, then I had to go to the autopsy right after that. And so, I went to the autopsy. When they peeled that little girl’s scalp back to expose her skull, her skull just fell into pieces, [Yeardley gasps] like what you would expect to happen if you dropped a cantaloupe or something on the floor.
Yeardley: [00:09:02] Oh, my God.
David: [00:09:03] It just fell into pieces. There were several pieces there. It was the first autopsy I ever attended and it was very eye opening from the moment I first saw her on the table. She’s laying in there on the table and I saw her from a distance, because I had to put on protective clothing and stuff. She was laying there. She just looked like a little baby doll. I was like, “Wow.” And I had to tell myself, “This is not a child anymore. This is evidence. You got to remove yourself. She’s not there. That’s just what used to be her.”
Yeardley: [00:09:32] All of you say that crimes against children are the hardest.
David: [00:09:35] They are.
Yeardley: [00:09:35] Right.
David: [00:09:37] So, had to witness that. Once it got started, it got easier. Listening to the doctor explain the injuries, they couldn’t say how they happened. And then they did the cavity inspection where they opened the cavity up– [crosstalk]
Yeardley: [00:09:49] Cavity?
David: [00:09:50] The body cavity.
Yeardley: [00:09:51] Okay.
Dan: [00:09:51] Torso.
David: [00:09:52] Torso. And they remove all the organs and everything. And then the doctor calls me over and says, “I want you to look at something.” I looked, and he showed me evidence of recent broken ribs. And he says, “This is not common in a 35-day old baby.”
Dan: [00:10:08] Is it at the fulcrum too? Is that where they break?
Dave: [00:10:12] Well, if we’re talking about a shaken baby, you’ll get the breaks back by the spine where the fingers wrap around. You get them out at the furthest margin of the ribcage, where they snap at the fulcrum and then you’ll get them where the thumb is pressing in on the front.
David: [00:10:26] Yeah, these were at the spine.
Dan: [00:10:27] Okay.
David: [00:10:28] That’s exactly what the doctor said. “You don’t usually see these as being injuries from childbirth,” but he says that’s something to consider. “You might want to ask Angela about her childbirth, you know, how that went.” So, I go back, and now it’s a new ballgame. Lucas comes in for another interview and he basically says the same thing. He tells us the same thing that he missed the bed. And so, then I tell him, “Look, I watched the autopsy.” Said, “Remember me telling you, you don’t want to be portrayed as a liar?” He said, “Yes, sir.” And I said, “You’re lying. The injuries were too severe.” I said, “I know this was an accident. I know you didn’t mean to, but you’ve got to make your actions match the injuries or else people are going to think you’re lying.”
[00:11:16] I asked him, I said, “Could you have accidentally dropped her from higher up?” And he said, “Yeah, I could have.” They start giving in just a little bit at a time. It’s hard to get them to go all the way right away. You got to get a little bit at a time. A little bit at a time. And then at the end, you can say, “So, this is what you mean.” Then they’ll give you all of it.
[00:11:36] So, we bring in a prop, which is a life size baby doll with approximate weight, so he can demonstrate it to have it on tape. So, he starts holding the prop up high, the baby doll up high and bending over and dropping the baby to the floor. I would tell him, “Lucas, that’s close, but I don’t think that’s quite right. I think you were a little higher. Now show me where you were.” And so, by the time he was done, he was standing upright. He’s a tall man. He’s 6’2″. And so, he was dropping this child from a significant height.
[00:12:12] Each time he does this, you hear a resonating thump when that infant hit the floor and you just think, “That’s what it sounded like when this child hit the floor,” and it just turned your stomach as it goes and goes. And so, then he tells me, “It might have been higher.” And then we end up with him walking in and he demonstrates this. He walks by and throws that child from shoulder heights, boom, onto the floor.
Yeardley: [00:12:38] Throws the child.
David: [00:12:39] Throws the baby doll down. He says, “That’s how I’m pretty sure it happened.”
Yeardley: [00:12:43] Jesus.
Yeardley: [00:12:56] This is horrific. Do you have enough to nail him at this point or do you have to keep pressing him for more details?
David: [00:13:04] At this point, I have enough, but there’s damages to the side of the baby’s head that, to me, didn’t account for her hitting the back of her head. I’m not a pathologist or nothing, but again, this is that instinct, “Ask more, ask for a little more. Just to see if there is more. If there’s not, they won’t give you any more. If there is, if they’re giving it to you, they’ll keep giving it till either they say, ‘That’s it, there is no more,’ or until you stop asking.” They very seldom will say, “Wait. Come back here. I got more to tell you.”
Yeardley: [00:13:34] Right. [laughs]
David: [00:13:35] “I’m not done.” So, then I said that magical question, “And then what happened?” And then he says, “Well, she wouldn’t stop crying. And so, I picked her up and I was going to take her into the room and I hit her head against the door jam.”
Yeardley: [00:13:49] On purpose?
David: [00:13:50] That’s what I didn’t know. I said, “What do you mean, I hit her head?” And he picks the baby doll up and we open the door to the interview room, so he can walk through. You see him walking nonchalantly and making it look like he accidentally hit the head on the door jam. I said, “Lucas, are you sure that’s the way it happened, because that doesn’t match the injuries. I don’t want you to be portrayed as a liar.” And he says, “Well, it’s probably more like this.” And then he bangs the baby doll against the door jam.
Yeardley: [00:14:20] Oh, my God.
David: [00:14:21] I said, “Is that how you did it?” And he said, “Yeah.” And he did it hard. I said, “Is that as hard as you did it or did you do it harder?” He says, “No, that’s about how hard I did it.” And then I just said, “How many times did you do that?” And he said, “I don’t know, three or four.”
Yeardley: [00:14:35] No. No, no.
David: [00:14:36] He was placed under arrest after that. At that time, he didn’t know his baby was dead. I never told him, because if you’re telling the baby’s dead, “I want an attorney.”
Dan: [00:14:45] “Yeah, I’m not confessing to a murder.”
David: [00:14:47] Yeah. But he never asked how the baby was.
Yeardley: [00:14:49] Right.
David: [00:14:50] Oh, my God.
Yeardley: [00:14:51] As the layperson listening to these stories, I find that to be rather common that people who are often guilty don’t actually ask what happened. They don’t actually want to know the ultimate outcome.
David: [00:15:01] Or, they do know.
Yeardley: [00:15:02] Yes. Right.
Dave: [00:15:04] That’s why they don’t ask, because they already know.
Yeardley: [00:15:06] That too. Yes.
David: [00:15:07] So, anyway, I had to talk to Angela about it and she was typical grieving mother. She couldn’t believe that it happened. She couldn’t believe that Lucas had done that to his own child, and she blamed herself for going to work, “Why didn’t she stay home?” But she had to work, because Lucas wouldn’t. He’d much rather stay home and play video games. When we’re talking about the mattress incident, missing the mattress, he said that he bathed her, but she was crying and she was interrupting his video games.
Yeardley: [00:15:38] Wow.
David: [00:15:39] Lucas, I don’t think he was of the right mental.
Dave: [00:15:45] He’s got a little developmental delay.
David: [00:15:46] Yes.
Dave: [00:15:48] There’s so many facts and circumstances in this case that most any homicide or child abuse detective would be listening to this, nodding their head, like, “Yup, yup, just checking boxes.” Loner doesn’t want to work. The video game strikes a chord with me, because the first deceased infant I ever dealt with was a guy who got upset, because the child was crying and was interrupting his video game. So, he smothered the child. The fall stuff, and walking through the reenactment, how it takes six, seven, eight iterations to finally get to what really happened. They minimize, minimize, minimize. Detective David calls him out and finally the guy’s like, “Okay, this is how it happened.” And we know that these people that lose their patience and they snap around kids, it happens during bathing time, diaper changes, and feeding. That’s the most frustrating time.
[00:16:48] The child isn’t cooperating. You’re trying to get this taken care of and it could be seconds where they snap and lose their shit and they grab the baby, just like we said, and shake it or they’re punitive. They bite the child out of frustration. In this case, the guy is basically taking this loud, noisy thing that is irritating the hell out of him and he’s punitively hurting this child, trying to get it to shut up and also venting his frustration. So, he throws it down on the ground, picks it up, goes by the door jam, whack, whack. And if you put yourself in that room as a fly on the wall and watch this, you’d just be absolutely appalled. Like, if there was a nanny cam, put that in front of a jury and say, “What do you think? Is this an accident or is this guy a fucking murderer?”
Dan: [00:17:37] Dave, in his trainings, because a lot of patrol officers don’t know things to look for, like torn frenulum.
Yeardley: [00:17:45] What’s a frenulum?
Dan: [00:17:46] That’s the little thing that connects your upper lip and your lower lip to your gums, that little piece of tissue, that is a sure sign of child abuse.
Dave: [00:17:56] We have, in our jurisdiction here last week, a deceased infant. And the child has a healed scar on its frenulum and it’s from either being smothered, where you push the hand down on their mouth so hard that it tears that tissue, or during a feeding time, you shove the bottle in their mouth and it tears the frenulum, or slapping a child sometimes can tear that frenulum. And those are telltale signs where when I went out to one of these abused kids’ cases, I always, “Hey, can you lift their lip? I want to see that.” Because it’s a rare injury, there’s only limited ways that can happen, and it’s painful.
Yeardley: [00:18:34] Right.
Dave: [00:18:35] Yeah. And listening to Detective David just describe as he’s putting the smock or the clothes on and seeing it looks like a doll. It’s so lifeless. But you know what it is? I got tingles when he brought it up and I got tingles during certain parts of what he was explaining, because I was like, “Yeah, I’ve dealt with that.” He’s right. If you’re so callous that none of that bothers you, you need to stop doing that casework, because it’s not personal, but you have to be passionate about advocating for this child, who can’t describe how they’re feeling or they’re deceased now. Everything that he was describing, I’m going back through some of my cases where you’re like, “Yep.”
[00:19:18] Yeardley, you ask, “Where do you guys put this? Where does it go?” It goes in a box. And then we talk about stories like this and that’s when you open the box. You open the box and you start thinking about it again. Everything that Detective David saying is resonating with me.
Dan: [00:19:33] During Dave’s trainings, I’ve learned so much about what to look for and the actual force that it takes to cause these injuries. I don’t think people, unless they saw how actually hard you do it, would ever guess that it takes that amount of force to cause that injury, like the shaken baby syndrome. I think most people probably just think, “Oh, they’re just shaking the baby.” It’s not like that.
Yeardley: [00:20:00] It’s incredibly intentional.
Dan: [00:20:02] Oh, my God.
Dave: [00:20:03] You got to shake it as hard as like you have a fresh paint can, and you’re trying to mix that paint up, you shake it harder than that. That’s what a shaken baby incident looks like.
Dan: [00:20:13] So, you can’t explain that away and say that you weren’t meaning to do that.
David: [00:20:17] Something else that Detective Dan just mentioned that came to mind. A baby that’s 35 days old, number one, their head is still soft. That’s the way it is with nature. If a baby, 35 days old does fall off the chair and hit on its head, that skull is still soft. It’s going to give, not fracture. It takes a lot of impact to fracture that skull. It’s nature’s way of taking care of that child.
Dave: [00:20:46] It shows how much these medical examiners, how we rely on them in these cases. We have cases where we get in on it after the hospital has called us and said, “Hey, we got a baby here that’s deceased, or is probably going to die, or is severely injured, and we’ve got this delayed reporting.” In this instance, baby has had its head scrambled for hours, probably. We’ve got Lucas and he’s like, “No, let’s wait. Let’s wait.” Because he already knows that the spotlight is going to be on him when they make it to the hospital.
[00:21:17] So, in the case where we have an infant that somebody’s done CPR on, we’ll get to the hospital, the baby gets revived, but then is later deceased or they get a full body scan on this baby and it’s revived. A lot of times we’ll see these rib fractures. We know through studies that it is extremely difficult to break young bones, because they’re malleable, they bend. Detective David locked this guy into multiple stories. So, this guy’s recognizing that Detective David’s not buying this. And he’s actually telling him, “No, it happened another way. Give me a better example than that.” Basically, you better lie better than that.
Yeardley: [00:21:56] Saying to Lucas.
Dave: [00:21:57] Saying to Lucas. And Lucas, his story shifts. “I need to make this more believable.” So, a lot of times, they’ll say, “The baby’s ribs must be broken because of CPR.” It is so rare that it’s single digits out of hundreds of cases, where a baby’s ribs will be broken through the process of CPR. It’s much different than doing CPR an adult, where within one or two presses, you can feel the cartilage start cracking and it’s unmistakable. You always remember that.
David: [00:22:27] In Lucas and Mariah’s case, when I confronted him about the injured ribs, I said, “Well, there was evidence of her ribs being broken. How do you figure that happened?” And he says, “Probably when I dropped the remote, I had her in my lap and I leaned over and I probably squished her.”
Yeardley: [00:22:43] Really?
David: [00:22:44] Yeah. And so, all I needed was an explanation, whether or not it was the exact explanation. I just wanted him to account for that injury. I asked Angela about that and she says, “You know, I remember a few days before, every time I would pick her up, she would cry.”
Yeardley: [00:23:07] Oh.
David: [00:23:08] She said, “And I couldn’t understand why she was crying. She wasn’t hungry, she wasn’t dirty. But if I’d pick her up to hold her, she would cry. Unless I held her in a special way, unless I held her with my arm under her butt and her head on my shoulder and not touching her torso.”
Yeardley: [00:23:24] Oh.
Dave: [00:23:25] Yeah, Mariah’s got old injuries.
David: [00:23:28] Yes, healing injuries. They were fresh. When Angela was referring to this, she was still freshly injured. But at that age, they can’t say, “Mom, my ribs are broke. Daddy did this to me.” It’s so sad.
David: [00:23:50] As it went on with Lucas, he was arrested and incarcerated and out of the jail. I think I went to serve him a criminal complaint or something out there and he says, “I want to come in and talk to you, guys.” And I said, “What about?” He says, “I want to make sure you believe me that this is what happened.” And I thought, “Okay, we’ll do this.” So, we did bring him in. Whether or not I could use that in court, I didn’t care if he had already retained an attorney or what he asked to do that. I had enough. So, if they want to suppress that and not use that, okay. Shame on me if I knew better and I did it anyway.
Yeardley: [00:24:25] But isn’t there a thing if they reinitiate contact? I know it can get a little dicey. It did for you once, Dave, but isn’t that legit?
David: [00:24:33] I don’t know how it is in Dave’s jurisdiction, but I know in our jurisdiction, if I don’t know that he’s been represented, and Dave does know, it’s better if I talk to him than if Dave does. As long as Dave hasn’t told me he’s got an attorney, it’s a slippery slope when you start talking to him again, even with the attorney. I’ve had attorneys call me and tell me, “Under no conditions are you to talk to my client about anything. I don’t care.”
Yeardley: [00:24:59] Even if they contact you, you’re not allowed to talk to them. Do you honor that?
David: [00:25:03] If they want to talk, I will talk, but you ought to see the hoops I jump through to make sure that the client knows if his attorney was here, his attorney would tell him, “Shut up. Don’t say a word. Do you still want to talk to me, even though it might be to your betterment not to and your attorney would thoroughly object? And are you under the influence of alcohol or drugs at this time?” I jumped through all the hoops to where it is strictly on that client to want to talk to me.
Yeardley: [00:25:28] Got it.
Dave: [00:25:29] Detective David is, basically, checking all the boxes that would potentially be brought up in a suppression hearing or cause an appeal if the suppression hearing went in favor of the prosecution. So, you get all that out of the way in the preamble of that interview, you knock down every defense that he would have.
Yeardley: [00:25:48] Right.
Dave: [00:25:48] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:25:49] So, you go to the jail because he said, “I want to talk to you. Make sure you believe me.”
David: [00:25:52] Sure. And we brought him in and got it on recording again to be sure. Went back over it all. Like we said, he initiated. I talked about stuff that I’d already talked about and got in a previous interview. If anything changed and it got better for the prosecution, great. If it survived a suppression hearing, okay. If it didn’t, I was still okay with what I had.
[00:26:13] So, the interview where he tells me about how he did everything, at the end of that interview, I told him his baby died. And no emotion. Nothing. No emotion. He just says, “Well, that’s sad.” I don’t know if he didn’t have that connection between his brain and his heart or whatever, if there wasn’t an emotional side of him. And so, then at one point, he asked if he could attend the funeral. I said, “No.”
Yeardley: [00:26:41] I’d be surprised if he’d be welcome.
David: [00:26:43] Yeah, exactly. And so, then afterwards, he asked if he could go see the grave. And so, we got approval for that. It’s kind of one of those deals. Well, the route to the jail doesn’t go by the cemetery, but that day it did because I got a human sight of me and I want to be able to say, “Yeah, I took him there. It’s still his baby. Maybe he’ll have some emotion. I want to see if this man is that cold. Is he going to do anything? So, we take him to the grave, and he walks up to the grave, and he’s looking at the grave, and he squats down, and I figured, “This is it. This is where he’s going to cry.” But no, he reaches down, picks a flower, and he says, “What kind of flower is this?” And it’s like, he doesn’t have that connection.
Yeardley: [00:27:28] As I listen to you say that, I wonder if Lucas is being developmentally delayed is a contributing factor in his complete lack of empathy. But then at the same time, we’ve heard of plenty of other criminals on this podcast, who are not developmentally delayed, who also lack empathy. So, maybe Lucas, simply, he just doesn’t have any.
Dave: [00:27:50] Right. And you picture somebody who could do that. People who abuse pets, people who abuse children, anybody who could do that, clearly, they lack a certain component in their brain, or their heart, or their soul that allows them to do that repeatedly. They’re unredeemable and that’s why we have detectives out there that try to put them away, so they can’t hurt any more kids.
Dan: [00:28:15] If you start really dissecting these injuries and you’ve got broken ribs that are at least a couple days old– So, there’s one instance of abuse happening. And then you’ve got the injuries that cause the child’s death. There’s another instance of abuse and how many before that. He’s used to hurting the child. It’s not just one time. He’s used to it. So, the emotional part of it is probably removed a little bit.
Dave: [00:28:43] Right.
David: [00:28:43] Yeah. And it should be also added, I guess. Lucas lived right down the street from me.
Yeardley: [00:28:50] Oh.
David: [00:28:51] I know Lucas’s parents, I know Lucas’s brother. I think that there was a lot of fetal alcohol syndrome going on in that family. And I think Lucas’s brothers were all in prison for various violent crimes and I think that may be a contributing factor. We have a saying in our profession, “It’s an explanation, not an excuse.” I think that has a lot to do with it. I know Lucas’s parents didn’t like me for a long time, but they’ve accepted what their son is now and they know that he deserves to be there.
Dave: [00:29:25] At some point, Angela becomes aware that these are inflicted injuries. There’s not an accident. How is she with all this?
David: [00:29:32] She was a basket case, as you might figure. She had to go through a long-term psychiatric counseling. And now, she’s done so good. Now, she’s a victims advocate for mothers of child victims. She has spoke at many of our candlelight vigils and she just thinks the world of me. I don’t know why. Nothing special. [Yeardley laughs] But to this date, I still have Mariah’s picture on my mirror and I look at it every day. In fact, I had to ask Angela for another picture, because the first one, sun faded out and I said, “No, you got to give me my angel back.” There was times that I would look at Mariah and I’d go, “That’s why I do what I do.”
Dave: [00:30:11] Did he take this to trial or was there a guilty plea?
David: [00:30:14] There was a guilty plea. His attorney wanted a reduction in charges. I know his attorney real well and his attorney says, “Come on, you can give Lucas a break. He just made a bad decision. He’s a good guy.” And I said, “You got to be kidding me.”
Dave: [00:30:28] Let him babysit your kid.
David: [00:30:29] Yeah. He got 36 years.
Yeardley: [00:30:32] Wow.
David: [00:30:32] Child abuse resulting in death.
Yeardley: [00:30:35] Did Angela go on to have other children?
David: [00:30:38] She did. She married another guy and they seem to be doing real good. Her child now often talks about her angel sister.
Yeardley: [00:30:47] Ah, sweet.
David: [00:30:48] It’s just a sad deal. Just a sad, sad deal.
Dan: [00:31:02] One of the things we like to do on our podcast, and Dave has been able to do for our listeners before is maybe identify some red flags that parents or people in the periphery of maybe an abusive situation can recognize and prevent this from happening again. Can you guys go over a couple of those?
Dave: [00:31:21] Well, I’m thinking about, and I don’t know Lucas and Angela’s situation, but certainly, the child abuse cases that we have up here, often this extreme physical abuse is at the hands of a stepfather. Usually, it’s a boyfriend. Mom and boyfriend met quickly, the boyfriend moved in or vice versa, they shack up together, and mom is the working person or they’re both drug affected. But usually, the male on these cases is lazy. The kids are more of a hindrance to his lifestyle than somebody that he really cares for. These are the situations that child from the moment mom met boyfriend, that child was in danger. It just hadn’t happened yet.
David: [00:32:08] What I’m seeing in our jurisdiction down in our area and I’m sure it’s prevalent everywhere is, people will say, “Child abuse is getting worse. It’s getting worse.” No. That’s not what it is. Child abuse is the same, but people are being forced to report it. Now, there’s laws where we are. I don’t know if it’s that way up here. You don’t report child abuse and I can charge you.
Yeardley: [00:32:28] Oh.
David: [00:32:28] If you’re aware of it, if you’re a healthcare provider, a school employee, it doesn’t matter. A neighbor. If you’re aware of possible child abuse and it is child abuse and you don’t report it, you can be charged.
Yeardley: [00:32:40] Interesting.
Dave: [00:32:41] We’ve got mandatory reporting laws here, clergy, school officials, nurses, anybody in the medical field.
Yeardley: [00:32:48] What about neighbors?
Dave: [00:32:49] If you don’t check a certain box of people that are on this list, then you might not be held liable. We get a lot of anonymous reporting of child abuse here, but I think if you’re over 18, you should qualify. It hasn’t made it that way in our state yet. There are certain occupations that you have to be that you become a mandatory reporter. To me, it’s common sense. If you are 18 or over, you should be a mandatory reporter and you witness something and don’t speak up, you’re the problem too.
David: [00:33:25] Yeah. It’s not going to prevent child abuse, but it’s going to encourage people to report it. Even if anonymous, whatever, that’s fine. The difficulty is, if I suspect you of being a neighbor and not reporting it, I got to somehow get you to acknowledge that you knew it was child abuse and didn’t want to be involved. If I can cover those elements, now you’re criminally liable, because you can’t not want to be involved. You don’t have to be involved. Just report it. The police will take it from there. We’ve all taken tips from somebody and been able to put a case together without saying, “It came from the neighbor.”
Dan: [00:34:02] Yeah. If you can’t formulate that plan and articulate that when you’re talking to somebody, you should find another job.
David: [00:34:10] Yeah.
Dan: [00:34:10] This isn’t for you.
David: [00:34:12] If somebody says to me, “Well, I’m going to tell you this, but I don’t want to be involved,” then I go. “Okay, hang on. Let me get ready, because I want to be able to get exactly everything that you have to tell me, so I can keep you from being involved, because I got to get from A to Z without you being involved.”
Yeardley: [00:34:29] Right.
Dan: [00:34:30] Sometimes, you talk to these people and you say, “Why don’t you want to be involved?”
David: [00:34:34] Oh, for sure.
Dan: [00:34:35] This is absolutely the case that you should be involved in and I might need you. So, I need you to be on board with this.
Yeardley: [00:34:40] Does that work?
Dan: [00:34:41] It does.
David: [00:34:42] On some types of cases.
Dan: [00:34:43] Some people just need to hear it.
Dave: [00:34:45] And there’s others that you’re never going to get over that hurdle with people, they feel like they did their part by just bringing it to your attention, even though you’re telling them, “I need more, so I can move on this.” “But I already told you.”
David: [00:34:57] I told you enough.
Dave: [00:34:58] And then they’ll be the person, when something really bad happens to this child, weeks later, they’re on the news blaming the police for not doing anything.
David: [00:35:06] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:35:07] Interesting.
Dan: [00:35:08] Yeah. We have a set of rules that we have to abide by. And sometimes, you have to name a witness in certain situations. And that’s what I try to tell people like, “You need to be on the right side of this.”
Dave: [00:35:19] Big picture.
Dan: [00:35:19] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:35:20] Detective David, you call Mariah, your angel, and you even asked Angela for a new picture of her, because the other one had faded. What was it about this case in particular that made you form that attachment to that little victim?
David: [00:35:36] It was my first real serious one, my first infant fatality due to child abuse. I’d had to work some car crashes, where infants were killed in car crashes and stuff. I watched CPR being done by other officers on the scene, and the infant dies, and then we have to tend to the officer, because they break down too. But this one was basically my case. I’d only been a cop for four and a half years when this case came up. And for me, to handle a case that had this type of violence between a grown adult and a 35-day old biological baby. Like Detective Dave mentioned, most of the time the suspects are stepfathers, boyfriends, yada-yada. This was her father.
Yeardley: [00:36:25] Right.
David: [00:36:25] We’ve all sat and wondered, “How can somebody do that to their own blood? Normal parents will give their life for their child, not take their child’s life.” Dave mentioned that we have the box that we put it in. Yeah, I got the box. Mine doesn’t have a lid. It goes in there. But from time to time, that stuff comes out. I’ll see something on the news or I’ll read about a case, and I’ll go, “That’s just like Mariah.”
Yeardley: [00:36:50] How about you, Dave? Do you have one like that?
Dave: [00:36:53] I don’t have one that I was the lead on. That’s as violent as what Mariah experienced or what Detective David experienced. But I have cases, certainly, sex abuse. I’ve got a couple of murder cases with victims and child deaths that I’ll never forget. It’s like he said, something triggers that memory, and you run right back through it, and you go through that cycle. And I would imagine every police officer worth his salt or worth her salt as well, has those types of cases.
Yeardley: [00:37:33] Fair enough. Dan?
Dan: [00:37:35] Yeah. Just sitting here and talking about these cases makes me relive every encounter that I had with a child that was seriously injured or died that I– I’ve done CPR on an infant and its fucking worst thing ever.
Dave: [00:37:51] Yeah.
Dan: [00:37:53] I’m reliving it right now. It’s fucking horrible.
David: [00:37:56] It’s the greatest if they live. It’s the best feeling, if you bring somebody back. But it’s the worst, if you lose them.
Yeardley: [00:38:03] Right. Well, thank you for bringing us this case, Detective David. It’s devastating in every way and it packs a punch. But I do feel like it led us to a broader, really important conversation about what to look for when confronted with potential child abuse as well. So, thank you.
David: [00:38:25] You bet.
Dan: [00:38:26] Thank you, sir.
Dave: [00:38:26] Thank you.
Yeardley: [00:38:30] Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and Yeardley Smith, and coproduced by Detectives Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Soren Begin, Gary Scott, and me, Yeardley Smith. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor and the Real Nick Smitty. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin, and our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
Dan: [00:38:58] If you like what you hear and want to stay up to date with the show, visit us on our website at smalltowndicks.com. And join the Small Town Fam by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @smalltowndicks. We love hearing from you.
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Yeardley: [00:39:25] That’s right. Your subscription also makes it possible for us to keep going to small towns across the country-
Dan: [00:39:32] In search of the finest,-
Dave: [00:39:33] -rare-
Dan: [00:39:34] -true crime cases told as always by the detectives who investigated them.
Dave: [00:39:39] So, thanks for listening, Small Town Fam.
Yeardley: [00:39:41] Nobody’s better than you.
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