A prosecutor Wednesday asked a Reseda baby-sitter and former PTA president, who is on trial on a charge of murdering a 9-month-old boy in her care, whether she ever referred to the infant as an "Oreo" because he was of mixed race.
In the first mention of race in the case, Deputy Dist. Atty. Carol Fisch asked Debra Suzanne Cummings, 34, during cross-examination in Van Nuys Superior Court if she ever called the infant, Kevin Young, an "Oreo baby from an Oreo family."
Cummings is white. The boy's father is black and his mother white.
"I didn't then and I don't now" hold such thoughts, Cummings responded.
Cumming's 18-year-old son from a previous marriage, Joshua Rickards, told police in an interview last September that he heard his mother make the Oreo reference.
Outside the presence of the jury, Fisch also sought to introduce a statement allegedly made by Cummings to a friend: "You know how black men are; they always hit their children. The parents did this to him and and brought him to me in that condition." The friend relayed the statement to police investigating the case, Fisch said.
Judge Michael J. Farrell, however, would not allow the statement to be submitted to the jury, saying it was prejudicial to Cummings because the friend had not testified to it in court. The friend, a woman, is scheduled to testify today.
Cummings' attorney, Joe Ingber, said the alleged statements shed no new light in the case, except "to raise a quasi-motive." Ingber said Cummings "unequivocally" is not a racist.
Cummings, a former PTA president at Shirley Avenue Elementary School, turned herself in July 3, 1990, after learning that police intended to arrest her on suspicion of killing the child. She faces up to 15 years to life if convicted of the second-degree murder charge.
Cummings, who began testifying in her defense Monday, said the infant injured his head on June 15, 1990, when he fell against a coffee table. The child died the next day after life-support equipment was disconnected.
"I went to the kitchen" to prepare baby food "and then I heard a loud, heavy thud, or thunk, and then I heard whimpering," Cummings said. "Kevin then was sitting on the floor between the couch and coffee table. He looked dizzy, like he was seeing stars."
But a coroner's report said the injuries were inconsistent with a fall, and that it appeared the infant had been hit with a hand or fist, resulting in two fractures to the back of the skull.
Cummings, who is free on $25,000 bail, testified that the child had been sick all week, and had vomited regularly. Although the infant had begun teething, she said she did not believe that was the cause of the symptoms.
Cummings is also charged with involuntary manslaughter in the March, 1990, death of Matthew Cooley of Reseda, who was at a park in her care when he lost consciousness. Cummings has pleaded not guilty. The date for the preliminary hearing on that charge will be set June 12.