Attorneys for Latrena Pixley, the District woman who pleaded guilty to murdering her baby daughter seven years ago and now wants to regain custody of her 3-year-old son, yesterday sought to focus attention on Laura Blankman, the Montgomery County woman who has raised the boy since infancy and is trying to keep him permanently.
Blankman faced a barrage of questions from Pixley's attorneys as she took the stand for a second straight day in Montgomery County Circuit Court in the second trial to determine which woman will gain Cornilous's custody.
In a cross-examination that lasted most of the day, attorney Ralph Hall Jr. sought to bring out inconsistencies in statements made by Blankman in the past two years on matters such as therapy sessions, when she started calling herself Cornilous's "mommy," and on her efforts to teach the child, who is black, about African American history and culture.
Blankman, a white 29-year-old Montgomery County police officer, also discussed the origins of her relationship with Pixley, 26. The two women first met in 1992, when Blankman was an intern for the D.C. public defender's office and Pixley was facing murder charges in the smothering death of 6-week-old Nakya. A psychiatrist determined that Pixley killed her daughter during postpartum depression. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years of weekends at a halfway house and probation.
The two women lost touch but became reacquainted shortly before Cornilous's birth in 1996. When the baby was 4 months old, Pixley went to prison for violating her probation by committing credit card fraud and asked Blankman to care for him. Blankman later sought to adopt Cornilous, charging that Pixley was an unfit mother in a 1997 trial in which the birth mother was awarded custody. But the Maryland Court of Appeals remanded the case to Circuit Court, where it is being retried.
Pixley is slated to take the stand today. But yesterday, her lawyers attempted to shift the question of fitness for motherhood to Blankman. After the day's proceedings, Hall told reporters: "Do I think Laura Blankman is fit to raise Cornilous Pixley? The answer is an unequivocal no."
Blankman maintained her composure throughout the questioning. She did shed some tears, however, when her mother, Linda Hall, took the stand and began crying as she described her relationship with her daughter.
Hall said she considers herself to be Cornilous's grandmother, and of her daughter she said, "I'm very proud of what she's done with her life so far." She then broke down in tears and Judge Louise G. Scrivener called a recess in the proceedings.