THE defense today begins its third week of testimony in the manslaughter trial of Ginger and David Twitchell. The couple are on trial for the 1986 death of their 2-1/2 year-old son, Robyn. The couple turned to Christian Science prayer instead of medicine to treat the child, who died of what was later diagnosed as a bowel obstruction caused by a birth defect.
Special prosecutor John Kiernan cross-examined Mr. Twitchell for almost two days last week. Mr. Kiernan asked him if he wished he had turned to medical care for Robyn. ``I wish my child had lived,'' he said. ``If medical care could have saved him, I wish I had turned to medicine.''
Asked if that meant he had made a mistake, Twitchell replied, ``I did not ... because it is not sure that medical science could have saved him.'' He said the couple never ruled out medical care, but stuck with spiritual treatment because Robyn improved, and they thought it was working.
Twitchell denied telling investigators that the child had been doubled up in pain and thrown up continuously during his five-day illness. He said he did not call a doctor while a Christian Science practitioner was praying for Robyn because his religion teaches that it is counterproductive to combine the two forms of treatment.
``Isn't it true you didn't call a doctor because you wanted to maintain your spiritual purity?'' Kiernan asserted at another point. ``Absolutely not,'' Twitchell replied.
Kiernan hammered at Twitchell over trips to the dentist. He holds that those visits, along with Mrs. Twitchell's glasses and her resort to midwives and doctors during childbirth, show the couple got medical treatment for themselves while denying it to Robyn. Twitchell said that he had gone to the dentist only when he failed to heal his dental problems through prayer after several months, and that his wife accepted treatment from midwives and doctors during childbirth because the couple believed state laws required it.
Also testifying last week was Linda Blaisdell, a former Christian Science nurse who visited Robyn the day before he died. Mrs. Blaisdell said that when she arrived, the child appeared drowsy and ill, but that he perked up when she gave him a bath, and later ran after his mother when she went to answer the telephone.
Blaisdell's testimony contradicts that of prosecution medical experts, who hypothesized that Robyn would have been gravely ill and nearly comatose on Monday.
Kiernan peppered Blaisdell for hours with questions about her religious beliefs, as he did Twitchell and every other Christian Scientist who has testified. Blaisdell protested several times that Kiernan was quoting from the writings of Mary Baker Eddy out of context, bringing a rebuke from an angry Judge Sandra Hamlin for not answering the questions as put to her.
Judge Hamlin each time has allowed the religious questioning over defense objections that it is unconstitutional, telling the jury ``the questions go to the ability of the witness to perceive what she has testified to regarding Robyn....''
Stephen and Lisa Guarracino, who lived below the Twitchells at the time Robyn died, testified that they heard no moaning, screaming, or crying during the time he was sick. The couple's testimony contradicted that of other neighbors who testified for the prosecution.
Dr. Johan Blickman, a pediatric radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital testified Friday. He told Defense co-counsel Stephen Lyons that cases of bowel obstruction often present different symptoms and often cannot be diagnosed on the basis of an X-ray. Under cross-examination by Kiernan, he admitted a diagnosis of bowel obstruction could be made in some cases in the absence of an X-ray. He said that while a particular symptom the prosecution maintains Robyn manifested would ``probably'' be a serious one, he had never seen it in children or read of it being found in children.
On Thursday, Judge Hamlin refused to allow the testimony of a defense tax expert. Carl Goodman, an accountant, testified in the jury's absence that payments to a Christian Science practitioner are deductible expenses for medical care under federal and state income-tax laws. Defense co-counsels Rikki Klieman and Mr. Lyons argued that this showed societal acceptance of Christian Science healing and was a factor in leading the Twitchells to believe they were acting acceptably in choosing spiritual treatment for Robyn.
Kiernan argued, however, that ``the issue is not whether prayer is good or bad or whether it is effective. The issue is whether the exclusion of medical science is reasonable.''
Hamlin ruled that the evidence was irrelevant and immaterial. ``It does not go to prove reasonableness,'' she said. ``It would mislead the jury and could interfere with their ability to decide if what Mr. and Mrs. Twitchell did was reasonable.''