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Wife Takes Blame at Trial in Boy's Death

March 28, 1985|JERRY HICKS | Times Staff Writer

A Fullerton woman, whose statements to police led to her husband's arrest on murder charges in the death of a 13-month-old boy she was baby-sitting, testified in tears Wednesday that she killed the child by accident and that her husband was not even in the house at the time.

Linda Garritson, 30, also charged with murder in the Feb. 22, 1979, death of Scott Cleveland, told jurors in Orange County Superior Court she accidentally dropped the boy on the family room steps of their former Anaheim home while her husband, Michael, 33, was out jogging with a friend.

'Not Up Here Lying'

The admission occurred when Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas Avdeef asked Linda Garritson if she would "do anything" to help her husband.

"I know what you're trying to say. I'm not up here lying for him!" she shouted through her tears. "My husband wasn't even in the house. I'm the one who killed that child, but it was an accident!"

The Cleveland boy's death was initially ruled an accident, but the case was reopened in 1982 by Anaheim police after they received new information. Police were told by an unidentified person that the death was not an accident. Michael Garritson was charged with murder last August after his wife told police that she was out of the room when the child was injured.

Linda Garritson was charged with murder a few weeks later, but prosecutors believed it was the husband, not the wife, who was directly responsible for the boy's death. She is scheduled to be tried later.

But Linda Garritson said Wednesday all her earlier statements to police about what happened were lies.

Michael Garritson squeezed his eyes shut as his wife, who is seven months pregnant and was visibly upset, described how the boy died. She testified the boy climbed over the top of her shoulder while she was going up the steps. She grabbed his ankle to keep him from falling, she said, but the boy's head struck one of the steps.

Linda Garritson said she laid the baby on the third and top step and then ran to the refrigerator to get ice for the injury. When she got back, the child had fallen to the bottom of the steps.

The Garritsons had separated briefly after the boy's death but are now back together. Michael Garritson is free on $50,000 bail; his wife is free without bail.

The prosecution claims that Linda Garritson, who initially told police that the baby had fallen down the steps by himself, is now trying to cover up for her husband. Avdeef has requested Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald to throw out all of Linda Garritson's testimony. She is scheduled to take the stand again today.

But attorneys for both Garritsons say now that she lied to police last summer because she was angry with her husband for having an affair with another woman.

"She thought she could go back and straighten it all out, but by then the police weren't interested," said her attorney, Charles Margines.

Denies 'Cover-up'

On the witness stand Wednesday, Linda Garritson denied that she would cover up for her husband.

"Michael has never done anything I'd have to cover up for," she said. "Those lies I told police were a cover-up for myself."

Avdeef's key evidence, other than Linda Garritson's earlier statements to police, is testimony from a jailhouse informant, Albert Ramirez, who said Michael Garritson told him he had shoved the child down the stairs. But the defense brought in another jailhouse informant, Steve Van Vickle, who testified Ramirez told him he "fabricated" his story about what the defendant told him in jail.

Margines said Linda Garritson recognizes that her testimony can be used against her at her own trial.

"It was her decision," he said. "She knows she got her husband into this, and she wants the truth out, even if everything falls on her."

Linda Garritson said she called a hospital after the accident but then panicked and refused to say where to send paramedics. She testified that she worried because she did not have a license to take care of children.

Searched for Husband

She then loaded her own three children, the Cleveland child and another in her careinto a van and searched for her husband. After that, she went to a hospital, but instead of taking the baby into the emergency room, she insisted hospital staffers go outside to get the baby. She testified she left when officials began questioning her about the circumstances of the boy's injuries.

Eventually she found her husband, she testified, and the baby was taken to a hospital by paramedics from a fire station.

According to attorneys for both Garritsons, she did not tell her husband about hitting the child's head on the steps until last year. Until then, the husband didn't know his wife had been involved, the attorneys said.

After the investigation was reopened in 1982, the boy's remains were examined by skull specialists.

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