LIVE UPDATES: Prosecutors claim ex-Waco daycare owner charged in child’s overdose death mixed Benadryl with milk or formula
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The level of toxicity from a lethal level of antihistamine in infant Clara Felton’s system was “off the charts,” a forensic lab supervisor testified.
Prosecution testimony kicked off Wednesday in the murder retrial of Marian Fraser, who was caring for the 4-month-old Clara at her former Spoiled Rotten day care when the child died in March 2013.
Prosecutors Tara Avants and Will Hix called four witnesses on the opening day of testimony, including a parent who had two children in Fraser’s care in 2013, a Waco police crime scene supervisor and a toxicology supervisor from the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas, where the child’s autopsy was performed and blood samples were analyzed.
Justin Schwane, the forensic lab supervisor, testified that the level of diphenhydramine, the generic name for Benadryl and other antihistamines, was far greater than the average therapeutic level recommended for adults.
He said he could not tell when Clara was given the lethal dose of diphenhydramine and was unable to determine if she was given a large dose of Benadryl or if her death was caused by an accumulation of the antihistamine.
The child’s parents, Loren and Perry Felton, testified at Fraser’s first trial in 2015 that they did not give Clara Benadryl that day and did not give Fraser permission to do so. Fraser testified at her first trial that she never gave Benadryl to the children in her care without consent from their parents.
Fraser was convicted of murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison after her first trial. However, her conviction was overturned on appeal and she won a new trial. She has remained free on bond.
In opening statements Wednesday, Hix held up a large photo of Clara and said Fraser told multiple accounts about how often she checked on the baby during her almost three-hour nap. Clara was given a bottle at 12:30 p.m. and was put down for her nap, Hix said. She was found cold, lying in her own vomit and was pronounced dead four hours later after being rushed to the hospital.
Hix said Fraser’s daughter is expected to testify that Fraser asked her to hide the bottles of Benadryl in her room before Child Protective Services investigators inspected the day care facility, which Fraser operated for 25 years in her home on Hilltop Drive. That request came before the toxicology report was returned and before anyone knew how she died, Hix said.
Cari Edison, a Baylor University accounting and business law senior lecturer, opened prosecution testimony by describing the strict rules by which Fraser operated her day care. She said Fraser was especially insistent on parents not picking up their children during nap time, saying if parents needed to come during that time, Fraser or an employee would meet them outside in the driveway.
Prosecutors are alleging Fraser mixed Benadryl in the children’s bottles to make them drowsy and more compliant with Fraser’s rigid nap time schedule.
Some parents testified at Fraser’s first trial that they privately called her the “Nap Nazi.”
Edison said Fraser’s day care came highly recommended, but added she liked the structure she offered so much that she brought her younger son there, too.
“I was always made to feel like I was the lucky one for my child to be at this day care, like my child was vying for a spot there,” Edison said.
On the day Clara died, Edison called Fraser about 3 p.m. to say she was on her way to pick up her child, she said. She said Fraser was calm and told her she would meet her in the driveway. When she got there, things were anything but calm, Edison said, becoming emotional.
A firetruck and an ambulance passed her on the way to Hilltop Drive. Fraser ran out when she got there and said Clara was not breathing. Fraser tossed Edison her phone and told her to call Loren Felton and ask her to come immediately.
Under cross-examination from one of Fraser’s attorneys, Christy Jack, Edison acknowledged that Fraser’s day care services were in high demand and she agreed that a structured daily routine is important for young children. Edison said Fraser prepared the milk or formula bottles for the children but said she often brought her own bottles of milk, particularly when her daughter was a baby.
Paramedic Jeffery Venable testified that Clara was cold to the touch when he arrived with his ambulance crew, which he testified indicated to him that she had been dead longer than Fraser reported.
He said Fraser told him, “I just laid the baby down,” adding he had never seen anybody who went into cardiac arrest whose body got cold so quickly.
Prosecution testimony will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday. Court officials expect the trial to last at least 10 days.
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