Mom Guilty of Neglect in Child Death

Minutes after a jury in a Boulder, Colorado courtroom convicted her Friday of child neglect in the March 2006 death of her 10-week-old son, Jason, Molly Midyette slumped in her chair and mouthed "My life is over." Family members wept. Molly took off a silver necklace, and handed it to her mother before sheriff's deputies cuffed her to lead her to jail. Jurors had taken just six and a half hours to convict Midyette, 29, of knowingly leaving her son in a situation that led to his death. At a minimum, she will spend 16 years in prison. Alex, her husband and Jason's father, sobbed, embraced his wife and then began shouting at police, prosecutors and jurors involved in the case. As his family members began shouting as well, the judge cleared the courtroom.

The outburst marked the end of a 10-day trial that was the city's highest-profile case since JonBenet Ramsey was found dead 11 years ago this month. Alex, 28, faces trial next spring for inflicting harm on a child that resulted in death. If convicted, he faces 16 to 48 years in prison.

Like the Ramsey case, the Midyette trial evokes a prickly mix of money, power and justice. Alex is the son of one of the city's best-known property owners, J. Nold Midyette, whose real estate holdings are worth a reported $80 million. For Molly's trial, the Midyettes hired a top-notch team of attorneys and investigators, including lead counsel Craig Truman and Phil Miller, a former JonBenet prosecutor and assistant to then-district attorney Alex Hunter.

Even after Friday's verdict, questions remain. It's unclear how the infant came to be so badly hurt--and why some of his injuries remained hidden to his doctor for weeks before he died. On Friday, February 24, 2006, at around 4 p.m., the Midyettes rushed Jason to the doctor after the infant had turned an ashen gray while his arms and legs seized in awkward positions. Only nine days earlier, the baby boy with the battered bones - some later discovered to be weeks in the healing - was found to be in perfect health by his family doctor. But by March 3, Jason was dead from brain injuries, some weeks old, as doctors tallied the breaks and police launched a criminal investigation. In May 2007, a Boulder grand jury indicted the couple.

Prosecutors charge that Jason experienced ongoing abuse at the hands of his father, who, they allege, broke the baby's bones - including his left arm, clavicle and ribs - over the course of weeks (It was a blow to the head around Feb. 24 that killed Jason). Molly said she did not know her baby was injured. She trusted her doctor, Dr. Jill Siegfried, who had seen Jason at least six times since Jason's birth. Molly said she never saw bruises and doesn't know how her son became so battered. "I have no idea," she told the jury. "I can't explain any of them."

Alex and Molly had grown up together in Boulder. Alex left town after high school to attend community colleges but returned to work for his father. A large man, about 6'2," with short blond hair and a piercing stare, Alex would stand at attention at the courtroom exit at the end of each day of the trail, glaring as lawyers and observers left, and embracing his 5'1" wife in a loving hug. Prosecutors described Molly as intelligent. "She's a type-A personality," one official said, noting she was a graduate of Michigan State law school. Still, prosecutors painted a picture of a controlling relationship, noting the wealth of the Midyette family and the nearly $193,000 in student loans and debt owed by Molly.

After dating on-and-off, Molly moved into Alex's home in Louisville, Colorado, a community just a few miles east of Boulder in January 2005. In May, 2005 Molly discovered she was pregnant; the couple married in August. "We were overjoyed about that," Molly testified. "It was everything that I always wanted." Jason was born 35 weeks later, on December 17.

In the following months, a string of well-baby check-ups with Dr. Siegfried showed no signs of distress, according to the doctor's testimony. Jason was struggling with gaining weight, according to Dr. Siegfried, but that soon turned around. "I never had any concerns with the care of this child," Siegfried testified. In early January, Molly came home to find an upset Alex, who said he bumped Jason's head on a chair. The couple never mentioned the matter to Dr. Siegfried. They also noted how Jason's left arm "floated" and seemed to develop slowly. And in another incident, Alex reported to Molly that Jason bleed from the mouth during feeding. Molly said she didn't see any signs of trauma.

On Feb. 15, 2006, Siegfried saw two-month old Jason, who was well enough for immunization shots. Again, nothing unusual. Few, if any, concerns for Jason were discussed. "I commented on how I thought it was great how she and Alex cared for Jason," Dr. Siegfried said. "Her comment back to me was, 'Yeah, I'm really lucky'."

Then, on February 24, something happened.

According to the story the Midyettes' told police, Alex woke up with Jason at 5 a.m. for a feeding. The father and son fell back asleep on the couch. At 7 a.m. during a diaper change, Jason began crying very hard. Molly calmed the baby and put him back to sleep. By 9 a.m., Molly left for work, leaving Jason with his father. Things got worse. During an 11 a.m. bath, Jason moaned, arched his back, putting his arms straight out. Alex called his wife. They called Dr. Siegfried, whose secretary said go to the ER right away if the baby was getting worse, or, if not, to come by her office in three hours. The couple waited.

Dr. Siegfried was shocked at Jason's appearance, thinking Jason had meningitis. His fontanel, the "soft spot" on the top of the head, was swollen and hard. The brain was swelling. She ordered him taken to the emergency room. Alex and Molly drove Jason to the Boulder Foothills Hospital. A CAT scan revealed severe brain damage, including older brain bruises. Part of the brain's left side was "necrotic", meaning the tissue was already dead. A full-body X-ray revealed broken bones, including a fractured skull. A later exam showed the torn frenulum - the connective tissue between the gum and lip, sometimes an indication of that someone has jammed a bottle hard into a baby's mouth.

ER pediatrician Dr. Stephen Fries (coincidently, once Molly's pediatrician) testified that Jason's injuries were, "as severe as one can get and still be alive." The cause, Fries told the jury: "Child abuse." Some of the breaks were classic child abuse injuries, he said, including "bucket handle" bone breaks, where the end of the bones crack through squeezing and twisting; the rib fractures from squeezing or being shaken violently; and the torn frenulum.

But the skull fracture was from a blow, as was the left arm and clavicle fractures, all requiring "a force above and beyond the normal daily handling of an infant," Fries testified. The doctor heavily sedated Jason in part to help save what was left of the brain. Then, in a private room, he briefed Alex and Molly. "I said, your child has a very serious head injury and he has multiple fractures of bones," Fries testified. Alex stood up and got very angry, raising his arms above his head. "'How could this have happened! Jason didn't have any bruises,'" Fries recounted. "He was very angry."

A nurse testified that she overheard a heated exchange soon after between Molly and Alex. According to the nurse, Molly shouted to Alex, "Did you?" Alex shouted back a booming, "No!" Soon, police officers arrived. When an officer attempted to enter the room to question Jason's parents, he was blocked at the door by Alex's brother. "[He] was verbally challenging with me," the officer told the jury, who called for police back up, and put the Jason in emergency legal custody of child-care workers.

Boulder doctors transferred Jason to The Children's Hospital in Denver. "I first saw him on the following morning," said Dr. Ken Rose Winston, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Children's. He spoke to Alex and Molly. "I said, I thought [Jason] was very severely injured and extremely unlikely to survive." Dr. Winston added if he survived, Jason wouldn't be able eat, walk, talk, nothing. On hearing the news, the doctor said, Molly broke down and Alex threw up.

On Feb. 27, doctors removed life supports. Jason survived for nearly three days. He died in his parents' arms.

Prosecutors tried to make a case that Molly had been ambivalent about motherhood. In the days following Jason's birth, Molly had sent an email to an old boyfriend in which she did not tell him she had just given birth. Rather she concocted a story saying that she was in a car accident, was in the hospital and now had a scar across her stomach. "All that working out and the bikini body has a scar," Molly wrote in the email. Why deny the birth of Jason, prosecutors asked? A Boulder county official close to the case who requested anonymity said prosecutors tried to recruit Molly to testify against her husband. Molly wouldn't budge.

The defense called only one witness: Molly Midyette. Led by attorney Truman, the choice was a calculated parry against prosecutors' questioning of Molly's mothering, and she tried to explain all of the suspicious comments and behaviors prosecutors had raised. Regarding the moment when Molly asked Alex "did you" hurt the child, Molly replied: "My first reaction was to look at Alex and ask did you do this and he said no. And I asked if there was an accident, and [Alex] said no."

Molly also defended her in-laws' reaction at the hospital. Her extended family was just being overprotective, she said. The lawyer? He was an old family friend who was called in by J. Nold Midyette, not Molly or Alex. The email to the old boyfriend? "I had put so much weight on during pregnancy and had serious body issues…And I sent him this stupid email looking for some reassurance. It was really dumb. And really embarrassing….I just felt like I looked disgusting."

At the heart of the defense was Dr. Siegfried. Truman argued Molly had followed her family doctor's advice to the letter, and that Siegfried, even on Feb. 24, never created any sense of urgency. Called by the prosecution, child abuse expert Dr. Carole Jenny said if she had received Molly's Feb. 24 call, "I would want to see [the baby] immediately." Instead, an appointment was made for three hours later. How could Molly be reckless, the defense asked, if she was following doctor orders?

Jurors, who didn't speak after the trial, didn't agree. Dr. Jenny also said the family's delay taking Jason to the ER "signed [Jason's] death warrant." Other experts testified how a third of all child abuse injuries are missed in regular check ups. And it is common for one parent to protect the other abusive parent. As for the overwhelming grief, "Abusive parents love their children," Dr. Antonia Chiesa, a doctor at Children's Hospital who specializes in treating abused children, said. "Sometime they don't love them very well."