BOSTON — THE manslaughter trial of Ginger and David Twitchell continued last week as the prosecution attempted to begin a rebuttal case. The couple is on trial on charges stemming from their choice to rely on Christian Science prayer instead of conventional medicine during a five-day illness of their 2-1/2-year-old son, Robyn. The child died in 1986 of a bowel obstruction caused by a birth defect, according to an autopsy.
Suffolk County special prosecutor John Kiernan subpoenaed several individuals connected with Christian Science visiting nurse services in eastern Massachusetts. He said he was looking for records made by a Christian Science nurse who visited Robyn the day before he died.
The nurse, Linda Blaisdell, on Tuesday turned over a ``patient nursing care record,'' on Robyn to the court. Mr. Kiernan, however, maintained that there were other records, and claimed to have evidence that a second nurse treated the child. ``It is common knowledge in the Christian Science community who that person is,'' he charged.
Defense lawyer Rikki Klieman argued that examination of the subpoenaed witnesses in the absence of the jury was an improper prosecution ``fishing expedition'' to obtain information after it had rested its case. But Superior Court Judge Sandra Hamlin ruled that the evidence sought was ``relevant, admissible, and material.''
Kiernan then questioned Patricia Hughes, a Christian Science nurse employed by the Boston-area visiting nurse service in 1986, as well as other nurses and members of the service's board of trustees. The witnesses all testified that they had searched their files and found no other records regarding the Twitchells. All said they knew of no other nurse who had provided care to Robyn.
John Hanafy, attorney for those subpoenaed, unsuccessfully appealed to Justice Herbert Wilkins of the Supreme Judicial Court to end the proceedings.
Kiernan began his rebuttal case Thursday in front of the jury, recalling Miss Hughes to the stand. Hughes testified that, as far as she knew, the only record of care provided to Robyn was the report Mrs. Blaisdell had turned over to the court and a notation in her appointment book that Blaisdell had visited the Twitchells.
Hughes read aloud from Blaisdell's report a list of symptoms related to Robyn's condition. The list appears to go beyond Blaisdell's earlier testimony: She said that when she saw the child he was clearly not well, but that he did not appear to be seriously ill.
Kiernan seized on Hughes's appointment book, since she had earlier testified in the absence of the jury that it contained no references to Blaisdell's patients. Hughes said that after she had testified she reviewed the book and found that she was mistaken, and that Blaisdell's calls were indeed noted in it.
Asked by Kiernan if the notations meant she had provided care for Robyn, Hughes replied ``I did not.''
Hughes appeared Friday in court with an additional lawyer, Anthony Traini, who argued before Judge Hamlin that Hughes had not been advised of her 5th Amendment rights and had not waived them. Most of the day was spent in legal maneuvering over the issue. Late in the day Hamlin ruled that Hughes had waived her right against self-incrimination and ordered her to continue testifying before the jury today.
Hughes' lawyers are considering whether to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Judicial Court.