Judge rules accused baby sitter's rights not violated

Thursday, June 30, 2005

He said Karen Byrum didn't make it clear she wanted to contact a lawyer after she was arrested.

The rights of a 44-year-old Cape Girardeau baby sitter charged with felony child abuse weren't violated by police before her interrogation, a circuit judge ruled Wednesday, despite her defense attorney's assertion that she was refused access to a lawyer.

Circuit Judge William Syler said Wednesday that Karen Byrum never made it clear she specifically wanted to contact a lawyer when she was arrested in April after a couple alleged she beat their 4-month-old daughter, Chloe, while baby-sitting.

Syler denied the defense's request to suppress evidence of a recording of Byrum being interrogated by a police detective and said Bryum's next court appearance would be Aug. 1.

Syler twice listened to the first 11 minutes of Byrum's questioning in which she asked to use a telephone to call a friend, whom she said she wanted to contact a lawyer for her.

Byrum took the stand Wednesday and said her intent was to let the officer know she wanted a lawyer.

"I wanted to talk to an attorney," she said, adding that she was "petrified, scared, nervous" at the time.

Byrum couldn't reach her friend and a Cape Girardeau police detective advised her of her Miranda rights, which she said she understood. Those rights include the right to have an attorney present during questioning.

"I found the parties were cooperative with one another," Syler said when making his ruling. "... She said she was calling a friend. She never said the express intent was getting a lawyer."

Defense attorney Stephen Wilson, however, said that he believed she was clearly trying to have an attorney present during questioning.

"It seems to me that she did invoke her right to counsel," Wilson said. He said when the officer knew she was trying to reach a lawyer in some way, it should have been clear.

"When he heard that, a roadblock goes up and the police officer should go no further," Wilson said. "He tried to terminate her effort to contact a lawyer, which I don't feel is in the spirit of Miranda."

Assistant prosecuting attorney Angel Woodruff said that case law shows that defendants have to be specific when asking for a lawyer. She said vague sentences such as "I ought to talk to an attorney," "Do I need an attorney?" or even "Could I call my lawyer?" are not specific enough.

Jeffrey and Wendy Street allege that they rushed Chloe to the hospital after discovering bruises on the baby's abdomen, buttocks and legs.

In a probable-cause statement, the baby sitter confessed to striking the baby because Chloe was fussy but said it was not hard enough to cause bruises. The alleged incident took place April 1.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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