Cellmate says Md. woman confessed to killing adopted girls

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 2010

A former prison cellmate of a woman accused of killing two of her daughters and stuffing their bodies into a freezer testified Thursday that the woman confessed to her she suffocated them with a pillow.

"She smothered them," said Janet Buchmiller, whose recollections about conversations in a tiny prison cell came on the second day of Renee Bowman's murder trial in Montgomery County.

Bowman is accused of killing two girls she adopted and beating a third. Prosecutors said she killed the two in Montgomery County in either 2006 or 2007 and took the freezer with her when she moved to Charles County and then Calvert County.

Buchmiller said that in the prison cell, Bowman told her what she did with the bodies: "She set them in the freezer and took the bike lock off the girls' bike and put it on there."

Prosecutors are building the case against Bowman, 44, on several fronts. Among them, according to prosecutors: In an interview with detectives, Bowman herself described how she put the bodies in the freezer; Bowman's third child, who escaped from her house by jumping out a window, testified Wednesday that she saw Bowman choke her sisters and that Bowman beat and choked her; and Bowman's fingerprints were found on tape wrapped around one of the bodies in the freezer.

Buchmiller confirmed other parts of the prosecution's case. She said Bowman told her that she had reversed locks on a room in her house, which kept the three children inside, and Bowman told her the children had to use a bucket for a toilet.

Under cross examination, one of Bowman's attorneys, Alan Drew, worked to establish that Buchmiller was motivated to try to improve her own standing with the system. Buchmiller acknowledged that at one point, while incarcerated, she met with law enforcement officers and said, "If I can get back in there with her, I can get you more details."

But Buchmiller, 29, said she gained nothing from sharing the information and served her full sentence in jail, which stemmed from a sex-offense conviction.

In an interview after her testimony, she said she is still haunted by the 10 or so days with Bowman inside the cell, which she said was 6 feet by 4 feet.

She said she slept on a bed near the floor, which partially went under Bowman's bed. In a cell that small, she said, there's not much to do but talk.

"I know she's guilty," Buchmiller said. "She never cried about her kids. There was no remorse."

She said she was glad she testified: "I want there to be peace for those girls, all three of the girls."

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