A Montgomery County jury yesterday convicted a Germantown man of smothering his baby son in 1987 to collect $150,000 from insurance policies he had taken out on the child, who authorities initially thought had succumbed to sudden infant death syndrome.
It was the second time Garrett E. Wilson, 47, has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the case. He was convicted in 1999 and sentenced to life in prison without parole eligibility. But the verdict was overturned on appeal.
"It killed me that we all had to do this again," said Mary "Missy" Anastasi, the mother of the victim, 6-month-old Garrett Michael Wilson. Speaking outside the courtroom after her former husband was convicted, she said: "The appeal didn't change my opinion. I knew he was guilty."
Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, who also prosecuted the 1999 case, threw his head back in apparent relief when the verdict was read.
Wilson bowed his head slightly but showed little emotion as the jury rendered its decision. He also faces a first-degree murder charge in Prince George's County in the death of an infant daughter in 1981, when he was married to another woman. That child, 3-month-old Brandi Jean Wilson, also was initially thought to have died of SIDS.
Comparing the trial that ended yesterday with the case in 1999, Gansler said the latest one "was a much tougher case to present," adding: "It's been many, many years in . . . bringing this to justice. You have two infants that were smothered to death, and this doesn't bring them back, but it's certainly a great result."
The verdict followed six days of testimony and seven hours of jury deliberations.
Circuit Court Judge D. Warren Donohue excluded some evidence from the trial that had been admitted in 1999, including testimony about Wilson's extramarital affairs and the fact that Wilson had encouraged Debbie Oliver, his wife before Anastasi, to have several abortions before she gave birth to Brandi in 1981.
Wilson's attorneys said they plan to appeal. "There are still a lot of issues in this case," said lawyer Brian D. Shefferman.
Maryland's Court of Appeals overturned the 1999 verdict, saying prosecutors had improperly presented SIDS statistics to jurors in the case.
Juror Michael Rice, 35, said "a majority" came into the deliberation room convinced of Wilson's guilt, "but not everybody had decided."
"You really had to add up all the evidence," Rice said.
"In their gut, they knew" Wilson was guilty, said juror Lisa Roberts, 35. "They just needed to systematically go through the evidence."
Donohue scheduled sentencing for Aug. 4. He could impose a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the same penalty Wilson received in 1999.
In 1987, authorities attributed Garrett Michael's death to SIDS. That ruling stood until 1997, when Maryland's medical examiner changed the ruling to homicide after a police investigation found evidence of murder, including the fact that the father had obtained insurance policies on the boy.
The SIDS ruling in Brandi's death also was changed to homicide during the investigation of Garrett's death.
Doctors testified last week that they changed their rulings after prosecutors told them about Wilson's debts and insurance policies. Wilson had taken out a $30,000 policy on Brandi and two policies on Garrett, for $100,000 and $50,000.
It had also come to light after the babies' deaths that Wilson was the last person to care for both children on the nights they died.
Anastasi testified last week that Wilson had never gotten up to care for Garrett until the early morning of Aug. 22, 1987. She testified that when the baby started crying in the couple's Germantown townhouse that morning, she rose to feed the child, but her husband stopped her, saying he would do it.
She heard him burping the baby, she testified, and then a sound like a sigh that "made me get the chills." When she entered the baby's room, he was limp. He was pronounced dead at 7:04 that morning at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.