Nine months after her 2-1/2-year-old son died, Michelle Buss-Merwin told a jury she does not believe her new husband is responsible.
Instead, on Monday she stoically fielded questions from a prosecutor trying to convict Kevin Merwin of abusing Alexander Buss.
Yes, she believes her son fell off a bed rather than being beaten. Yes, she and Merwin were married recently. Yes, one of her previous sworn statements was false.
Monday was the first day of Kevin Merwin’s trial for felony injury to a child - a case expected to last throughout the week.
On July 18, back when he and Michelle were dating, Merwin, 24, spent the day baby-sitting her two children along with his three daughters from a previous marriage.
By the next day, Alexander Buss was dead.
Prosecutors say Merwin either shook Alexander or struck him hard enough to cause fatal injuries.
Merwin contends the boy had been feeling ill, fell off a bed and struck his head on the floor.
“Kevin did not do anything to hurt this little boy,” Frederick Loats, Kevin Merwin’s attorney, said during opening statements. “Everything is consistent with a fall.”
But “falling off a 3-foot bed onto a carpeted floor does not cause the injuries Alex had,” argued Lansing Haynes, Kootenai County deputy prosecutor.
Haynes began presenting his case Monday as Alexander’s father, Donald Buss, sat in the courtroom surrounded by family and friends. Buss drew in a breath and quickly turned his head as a photograph bearing the image of his dead son was shown to a witness.
Alexander Buss and his 4-year-old sister Jessica were born to Donald Buss and Michelle Buss-Merwin. The parents later were divorced and the children had been splitting their time between the two.
Michelle was living with Merwin along with his parents at their home near Athol, Idaho. On the morning of July 18, Merwin stayed at the home alone to care for the five children.
The children spent the morning playing in a plastic swimming pool. Alexander Buss became lethargic and ill, Loats said, so Merwin took the boy inside to change his clothes and put him down for a nap.
The boy stood up on the bed and then appeared to faint and fall off the bed, Loats said. “He actually passed out and went over backwards.”
The boy was flown to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, where he remained in a coma and then died.
Although prosecutor Haynes admitted that he cannot show exactly what happened to the boy, he said medical evidence indicates the damage to Alexander’s head could not have been caused by a fall from a bed onto carpeting.
He said the boy had severe bleeding both inside the brain and inside the eyes - a classic sign the child was shaken or struck severely.
Loats implied the toddler may have been injured first by one of the other children, or may have fallen and hit his head on the outside deck while playing - only to be hurt more by falling off the bed later.
Haynes pointed out inconsistencies in the defense story and implied that Michelle Buss-Merwin was changing her story and conveniently forgetting things to benefit her husband.
Michelle and Kevin Merwin were married in February.
When Michelle took the stand Monday she testified that Merwin told her the boy had fallen off the bed and hit the floor. She said Merwin never told her the boy hit a window sill. Haynes pointed out that in a previous sworn statement she had said Kevin told her the boy hit his head on a window sill.
Michelle contends it was a mistake made when the sworn statement was drawn up by another attorney.
At an earlier hearing, Michelle also testified that she called home only minutes before her son was hurt. She said she could hear the boy in the background talking and sounding happy. On Monday, she said she no longer was sure that she had heard her son, since Kevin Merwin says the boy was not in the room when she called.
But defense attorney Loats pointed out what he considers a major flaw in the prosecution’s case. “They have supposition and opinion, that is all they have.”
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