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Dunn Daily Record
Brian Haney, Daily Record Reporter
A Social Services worker testified Thursday that Katherine Strickland Parker appeared to be medicated and showed no bonding with her child following injuries to the 7-month-old which ultimately resulted in his death.
Mrs. Parker of Newton Grove is on trial in Johnston County Superior Court on charges of involuntary manslaughter in the death of her son, Joshua Quinn Tart.
Among witnesses Thursday was Patricia Hill, a child protective services investigator. Ms. Hall was on call Oct. 30, 2007. That day emergency workers answered a 911 call for an infant who reportedly fell in the bathtub and was unresponsive in the Parkers’ home near Meadow. At that time the Parkers were not married, but did marry several days after Joshua’s burial.
Ms. Hill went to WakeMed and arrived before both Joshua and Mrs. Parker. Ms. Hill told the story of seeing Joshua in the hospital. She said he was hooked up to numerous machines when she saw him.
Remembering the call stating he had been dropped in the bathtub, she said she looked him over for marks and bruises and found none.
“There was absolutely no indication of that,” she said.
When Assistant District Attorney Paul Jackson showed jurors enlarged photographs Ms. Hill took of Joshua, Joshua’s father, Roger Tart, who had not been involved with Ms. Parker for months before the incident, left the room, fighting back tears.
“I couldn’t take it,” he said as he sat on a bench outside the courtroom. “I didn’t want to see him in that state.”
Asked if the trial so far had been difficult for him, he nodded, saying, “It’s the hardest thing of my life (for me and) for my whole family.”
He said his father, who is a Vietnam veteran and who left the room behind his son, said the trial was harder for him to take than anything he saw in the war.
A Clouded Past
Back in the courtroom, Ms. Hill said Social Services had conducted a prior investigation into the household after Joshua’s pediatrician reported a failure to thrive shortly after he was born, indicating Joshua had lost weight since his birth. However, nothing at that time indicated further action needed to be taken.
Ms. Hill said Mrs. Parker told her at the hospital there was a history of domestic violence in the home involving Mr. Tart. He was serving time for felony strangulation when Joshua died.
She said Mrs. Parker also told her she had been on medication for depression, but could not tell her which medication she was on. Mrs. Parker also told her she had been hospitalized in 2003 for attempting suicide.
Ms. Hill said while she was talking to Mrs. Parker, Mrs. Parker continually tried to close her eyes.
“She appeared disoriented … dizzy and exhibited poor reasoning ability,” Ms. Hill said.
She said in the more than five hours she was with Mrs. Parker, the mother went in the room where her son was only twice. She said she witnessed no bonding between Mrs. Parker and her child.
According to Ms. Hill, Mrs. Parker also asked the doctor if there was water on the child’s lungs that could have occurred if he had been dunked under water.
When Mrs. Parker’s attorney, Craig James cross-examined Ms. Hill, he questioned whether she examined Joshua all over for bruising. She said she examined all of him, but his lower back as he had medical orders not to be moved.
It Was In The Details
Johnston County Sheriff’s Detective Brandon Harris responded to the home on Reedy Prong Road after Joshua had first been taken to Betsy Johnson Regional Hospital. Joshua died two days later on Nov. 1 at WakeMed.
He told the jury he spoke to Jeffrey Parker, who offered his account of what happened that night. He said Mr. Parker appeared very drowsy and was unstable on his feet.
Detective Harris said Mr. Parker told him he was giving Joshua a bath and when he was finished, he called for Mrs. Parker to come and get him.
According to Mr. Parker’s statement, when he handed Joshua to Mrs. Parker, the child slipped and hit his head on the side of the tub.
“He said the child started crying and (Mrs. Parker) carried him into the bedroom,” Detective Harris said. “About five minutes later, the child quit crying and that’s when she called 911.”
The detective then recounted an interview with Mrs. Parker, he conducted later.
In Mrs. Parker’s retelling of events, he said she told him when she went to the bathroom after hearing a thump, there was Mr. Parker, “holding the child, lifeless in his arms.”
Mr. Parker, who has pleaded guilty, is expected to testify for the prosecution today.