MORGANTOWN — The lead investigator in the death of 5-month-old Angel Nicole Tucker testified that the two suspects changed their stories about the baby’s injuries over a series of interviews.
In another development, Butler Circuit Judge Ronnie Dortch admonished spectators to leave their cellphones behind when they returned to the courtroom today, prompted by allegations that spectators used cellphones to tell upcoming witnesses - ordered to stay out of the courtroom until they were called - about testimony of earlier witnesses.
Dortch ordered the arrest of anyone caught bringing a cellphone into the court.
During the third day of the trial of Brittany Garcia and Nicholas Staples, Kentucky State Police Detective Brad Stevenson testified about his interviews with the two suspects.
Garcia, who is Angel’s mother, and Staples, who also had custody of the baby and was Garcia’s boyfriend, are on trial in Butler Circuit Court on charges of murder and first-degree criminal abuse.
Angel was pronounced dead Dec. 4, 2009, at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, three days after she was found not breathing in the Morgantown apartment shared by Garcia, 21, and Staples, 26.
An autopsy determined that the baby died from blunt force trauma and the death was ruled a homicide.
Stevenson, the final witness called by Butler County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Coleman, said he interviewed Garcia and Staples on multiple occasions on Dec. 1, 2009, first at The Medical Center in Bowling Green, where Angel was initially taken, and later at KSP Post 3 in Bowling Green.
During questioning from Coleman, Stevenson told jurors he learned during his investigation about a visit Garcia made to Dr. Richard Wan’s clinic in Morgantown on Oct. 30, 2009. Records from Garcia’s visit indicated that she had fallen down 13 stairs. The clinic also performed a checkup on Angel, which showed no injuries.
On Nov. 7, 2009, Garcia returned to the clinic, where records showed she had fallen down the same number of stairs. Prior testimony disclosed that Angel was taken to The Medical Center emergency room on Nov. 6, 2009, with the baby’s father, James Tucker, telling jurors that Garcia claimed the baby was injured during a fall down stairs two days earlier.
Records from the Nov. 7 checkup make no mention of Angel.
Jurors heard and saw excerpts of interviews that Stevenson recorded on audio and video on Dec. 1, 2009.
Stevenson said he interviewed the two at the hospital that morning, and then at the KSP post later that day. The pair left with Staples’ mother, Karen Staples, and returned that day to KSP Post 3 for another interview.
Over the course of the day, Stevenson asked Staples on multiple occasions about the falls Garcia claimed she experienced.
Staples initially said he was not aware of any falls, then said they did not occur at his house and that he was not aware that Angel had been to the hospital on Nov. 6, 2009.
Later in the audio recording, Staples told police that Garcia mentioned to him that she fell up the stairs.
During one of the later interviews at the state police post, Staples maintained that Angel had been fine up to the point that she was discovered not breathing.
“I never seen anything wrong with the baby, she’s usually happy and playing,” Staples said. He went on to point to his left side to describe one bruise Angel had. “She had a little bruise on her side … but it went away in a half-day.”
Staples mentioned in the last interview that day the fact that doctors who examined Angel’s injuries on Nov. 6, 2009, determined that they were consistent with Garcia’s claim of a fall.
In the hours before the baby stopped breathing, Staples said she had been well and he and Garcia had been checking on the baby every few hours.
Garcia said in interviews with Stevenson that she fell down the steps and up the steps a few days apart while holding her daughter, going to the hospital after the second fall.
A neighbor, Angie Brianna, previously testified that she saw the bruises on Angel after picking her up, and learned from Garcia that she had fallen while holding Angel two days earlier.
David Parks, who was an emergency room doctor at The Medical Center, testified about seeing Angel on Nov. 6 and Dec. 1, 2009.
During the first emergency room visit, Parks notified social services about the baby’s injuries, but determined that they were consistent with Garcia’s claim that they were suffered when she fell while holding the baby.
“I always assume that somebody is telling me the truth until I’m given a reason to assume otherwise,” Parks said.
When Angel came to the emergency room the second time, Parks observed the broken ribs and clavicle through X-rays and a CT scan.
Parks said he believed the clavicle fracture was suffered after Nov. 6, 2009.
Staples relays messages to mother from jail
After Staples was arrested in November on an indictment warrant, he was put in Butler County Jail, where he talked several times on the phone with his mother, Karen Staples.
Parts of three phone conversations were played for jurors, and in those calls, he suggested that his mother tell Garcia to “keep her mouth shut.”
Garcia was originally placed in Warren County Regional Jail, then transferred to Butler County on July 15.
“(Garcia) already knows when it comes to detectives to keep her mouth shut,” Nick Staples said.
Stevenson said that he and a member of Coleman’s office met with Garcia and her attorney, Walter Hawkins of Bowling Green, at the Butler County Courthouse earlier in the month and played some of the phone recordings for her.
Staples’ attorney, Dennie Hardin of Bowling Green, asked Stevenson whether the recordings were played in order to get Garcia to agree to testify against Staples.
Stevenson disagreed with that characterization.
“I wanted to give her the opportunity to share whatever they knew about the death of Angel,” Stevenson said.
Hardin asked Stevenson if he believed Garcia and Staples talked about their initial interviews at the KSP post before returning for another interview. Stevenson said he believed they did from the information he was able to gather, but could not say whether the two were together during the time between interviews.
Both sides call Staples’ mother as a witness
Karen Staples was called to testify by both Coleman and Hardin.
Staples said that her son and Garcia lived together at Huff-Ingram Apartments in Morgantown, but were separated during the Thanksgiving holiday in 2009, getting back together soon after Thanksgiving.
Karen Staples said she saw the couple and Angel the evening of Nov. 30 and estimated she left their apartment between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. that night.
Angel was found not breathing the next morning, and Karen Staples testified that her son called her and she drove from her Caneyville Road home into Morgantown, but was too late to meet the ambulance.
She drove her son and Garcia from The Medical Center to the state police post and then back to Morgantown.
Karen Staples said she did not remember them talking about what had happened that morning.
“They were so upset I don’t really think they talked to each other,” she said.
As a defense witness, Karen Staples testified that she did not believe that her son and Garcia were alone at any time between the two interviews with the KSP.
Coleman cross-examined Staples on the exchanges she had with Nick Staples during his time in jail.
Coleman asked whether she rewrote any of her son’s letters to Garcia to send to her or otherwise acted as a conduit of information between the two defendants, which Coleman said would have been against jail policy.
Karen Staples denied passing any notes between the two suspects.
Parade of cellmates testify
A total of six cellmates of Nick Staples testified Thursday - four for the defense and two for the prosecution.
Chad Raymond was the first inmate to testify.
Called by Coleman, Raymond, who is currently in jail in Warren County, said he was a cellmate of Nick Staples’ in an eight-man cell in Butler County.
Raymond said he and Staples became friends and soon Staples shared with him his feelings about Angel.
“(Staples) told me that the child wasn’t his … and he told me he hated the kid because of it,” Raymond said. “He said he was rough with her, he made a gripping motion with his hand and said he squeezed the baby.”
Jailhouse chatter about Raymond being a confidential informant caused Staples to become suspicious, Raymond testified.
“He told me that he has a body already on his conscience and he didn’t care if he had another one,” Raymond said.
Hardin called as witnesses four Butler County inmates - Randy Sanders, Thomas Reedy, Royce Belcher and Shawn Burden - who said they were cellmates of both Staples and Raymond and claimed to have never heard Staples talk about his case with Raymond.
Most of the inmates said that Staples and Raymond were not very close to one another.
“Nick had picked on him a little bit, but Raymond was the kind of person who enjoyed the attention,” Reedy said.
Hardin asked each inmate to describe the dimensions of their shared cell, and each witness gave a layout that was significantly smaller than the courtroom. The inmates all agreed that they were able to hear most conversations in their cell unless they were asleep.
John Cartwright, another cellmate, was called by Coleman as a witness, and claimed to overhear Staples talking about tossing Angel in the air. Cartwright said he never talked to Staples about his case.
Hawkins rested his case without calling any witnesses.
Attorneys are scheduled to make their closing arguments today.