The death of 10-month-old Ashley Snead was an accident, the result of the child's swallowing a prescription drug she found in her baby sitter's trash can, a Fairfax County jury was told yesterday.
"This is the lady who sedates all the babies in her care?" asked defense attorney Thomas J. Morris Sr., pointing to Martha E. Guba, charged with neglect after the infant died in her care. "This tragedy has hurt her as much as anyone . . . "
The defense came on the third and final day of testimony in Guba's trial on the felony charge at Fairfax Circuit Court. The jury is scheduled to return today to decide whether Guba willfully and knowingly neglected the child. If convicted, Guba could receive up to 10 years in prison.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond Brownelle has argued that the 58-year-old home day care provider administered the prescription drug imipramine to sedate the youngster, to keep Ashley "out of her hair." Imipramine is used to treat depression in adults and bed-wetting in children older than age 6.
Presenting his case for the first time yesterday, Morris attacked the prosecution's theory, telling the jury that what happened last July 28 was that Ashley toppled a trash can in which some medication had been disposed of the day before.
The defendant's husband, Albert P. Guba, testified that he had tried to discard some of the drugs -- prescribed for the cancer, heart ailment and diabetes from which he said he suffers -- in the kitchen disposal. But it clogged the machine, so he tossed his medicine, as well as two of his wife's imipramine tablets, in a trash can nearby, Guba said.
Albert Guba said he had taken many precautions to ensure the welfare of the children, including fastening child-safety mechanisms on drawers, installing a gate on their deck and monitoring the number of TV shows the children watched.
Earlier, Morris called to the witness stand three mothers who, like Ashley's parents, had selected Guba to care for their children.
"Anything unusual?" Morris asked one mother. "No," said Jacquie Felegie, adding that Guba would call her at work whenever her son reached a milestone in his development. "Healthy, happy, normal?" Morris inquired. "Yes," Felegie replied.
Tom Susor, whose four children were cared for in his Louisiana home by Guba several years ago, flew to Virginia to testify on Guba's behalf. Asked if he would now trust Guba despite the serious charge against her, Susor, an investigator with the district attorney's office in his home state, cried quietly and then answered: "Yes sir, she could care for my children again."
In his closing argument yesterday, prosecutor Brownelle reminded the jury that a toxicologist had testifed that Ashley had been ingesting imipramine "maybe longer than two to three days."
"This drug was given to this baby chronically . . . and that is the crux of this case, ladies and gentlemen," Brownelle told the jury as Ashley's parents, Jane and Ronald Snead, held hands tightly in the courtroom. "I don't believe for a moment that Mrs. Guba wanted that baby dead . . . ," "Nothing you can do here is going to bring Ashley back, but it will teach this lady here . . . that we will not have our innocent children treated in this manner."