Jury sentences Fraser to 50 years in prison in day care overdose death of infant in her care

Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 5:23 PM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: A McLennan County jury has sentenced Marian Fraser to 50 years in prison after she was convicted last week in the fatal overdose of Clara Felton, an infant in her care.

Fraser, 59, will have to serve at least 25 years in prison before she can seek parole.

A 15-year-old boy who was in Fraser’s care is on the stand. He asked how she would feel if her own daughter died like Clara. The boy said she doesn’t deserve to hold her unborn grandson because of what she did to Clara.

Sheridan Sibley, who had children at Spoiled Rotten, told Fraser to serve her sentence with dignity and ask God for forgiveness. She said shame on Fraser for telling so many lies and for betraying the trust of so many. Sibley asked Fraser why she just didn’t “come clean and apologize” to all those she betrayed.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: Ten years and six days after infant Clara Felton died from an antihistamine overdose at Spoiled Rotten day care in Waco, a McLennan County jury convicted former caregiver Marian Fraser of murder in the child’s death.

Jurors in Waco’s 19th State District Court deliberated about 2 1/2 hours Friday before convicting the 59-year-old Fraser for a second time of murder in the 4-month-old’s March 2013 death.

Fraser, who was called “Mimi” by the kids in her care and “Nap Nazi” by some of their parents, showed no emotion as Judge David Hodges read the jury’s verdict after 10 days of trial.

The punishment phase of the trial will begin at 9 a.m. Monday. Fraser faces from five to 99 years or up to life in prison. She is not eligible for probation on the murder conviction.

The jury convicted Fraser of giving the baby a fatal dose of diphenhydramine, an antihistamine in Benadryl, which prosecutor Tara Avants told jurors in closing statements Fraser did to make the children nap better and because “she was lazy, she was selfish and she was manipulative.”

Fraser, who operated the highly sought-after Spoiled Rotten day care from her Hilltop Drive home, was sentenced to 50 years in prison after her first trial tin 2015. That murder conviction was overturned and Fraser was awarded a new trial because of improper jury instructions regarding Fraser’s culpable mental state.

Avant and fellow prosecutor Will Hix declined comment after Friday’s conviction, deferring comment until after Fraser’s punishment is determined next week. Fraser’s lead attorney, Christy Jack, also declined comment Friday, as did Perry and Loren Felton, the child’s parents, and McLennan County Judge Scott Felton, Clara’s grandfather.

McLennan County District Attorney Josh Tetens said his office appreciates the jury’s “thoughtful deliberations and guilty verdict.

“We will diligently continue to work to ensure justice is carried out,” he said.

Hodges ordered Fraser taken into custody after her conviction. She has been free on bond since January 2018.

Avants told the jury in summations Friday that Fraser was a “baby whisperer” because she had a reputation of getting babies to sleep for hours and maintaining a strict day care regimen. But Fraser had a “dirty little secret,” Avants said, adding that she drugged the babies in her care to make them sleep.

Fraser had the audacity to tell Loren Felton not to hold her baby so much, Avants said, because she feared it would spoil her.

“What would Loren Felton give to be able to hold her baby again?” Avants asked.

After the jury went out to deliberate Fraser’s fate, Fraser left the counsel table and hugged her own daughter sitting in the courtroom gallery.

Avants said Fraser played “Russian roulette” with the children’s lives by lacing their bottles with Benadryl so they would sleep about three hours in the afternoon. Avants told the jury that Clara was cold to the touch when firefighters and paramedics arrived, adding that the other babies in the room slept through the entire incident, including blaring sirens and emergency workers rushing in, because they were all drugged, too.

After Clara’s death, other parents had their children tested at a Houston lab. Their hair follicles tested positive for diphenhydramine but the results of those tests were ruled inadmissible for this trial because the lab has since been decertified and its owner discredited for unrelated reasons after an investigation by the Texas Forensic Sciences Commission.

Avants told the jury that Fraser conspired with her daughter to hide evidence of the medicine at the day care before state licensing investigators arrived, saying she must be held accountable.

“You don’t get a pass when a child dies, and one is too many,” she said.

Defense attorney Lettie Martinez said in jury summations that the state cooked up quite a story in an effort to make Fraser appear to be a monster.

“You can’t have it both ways,” she said. “You can’t get up here and say she is this evil baby-drugger and then say maybe she was just reckless.”

Martinez asked the jury how it was that none of Fraser’s employees over the years noticed anything strange about how Fraser operated the day care or saw evidence she was drugging babies.

She reminded jurors about the testimony of a longtime Fort Worth pediatrician, who testified for the defense that giving diphenhydramine to an infant is not an act clearly danger to human life and that while Clara had a toxic amount in her system, it was less than a lethal amount. He testified she likely died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Martinez bristled at Avant’s characterization of Fraser as lazy.

“If you think taking care of babies is being lazy, you haven’t lived long enough,” she said, adding that Fraser loved those children as her own and had taken care of countless kids in the 24 years she owned Spoiled Rotten.

She said after Clara’s death, the parents who once loved Fraser turned on her and started questioning every little symptom their children experienced.

Jack, noting a large photo of Clara prominently displayed in the courtroom, asked jurors in her closing not to let emotions surrounding the child’s death cause them to fill in the gaps missing from the state’s case. She said Fraser lost the presumption of innocence on the day the autopsy report came back, making Fraser an easy target.

Jack suggested if Fraser was as prolific at drugging children as the state alleged, there would have been other deaths “by the legion.” She asked jurors why Fraser would drug the children of working privileged families such as attorneys, prosecutors, pharmacists, bankers and a county judge.

“It’ s just not one question we don’t know the answer to, it’s a myriad of questions,” Jack said. “You deserve to have those answers. Those unanswered questions amount to reasonable doubt.”

Hix quoted William Ross Wallace to open his jury summation, saying “the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” He said parents trusted Fraser with their most precious loved ones and she betrayed that trust and manipulated the young parents.

Hix said, breaking the case down to its simplest terms, that Fraser was the only one who could have given the child the toxic dose because Clara’s family did not and neither did Fraser’s employee,Sherri Adams.

“We are not asking this jury to look at this evidence in isolation,” Hix said. “Marian is the one who made the bottles. She was in charge of the day care, and the day care is where that baby died. Marian is the one asking people to lie for her.”

On Friday, Hix and Avants wore gold angel’s wings on their coat lapels that a Felton family member gave them in memory of Clara.