Closing Arguments Set to Begin Today In Twitchell Trial
Prosecutor ends rebuttal by questioning Christian Science nurse and a physician
BOSTON — AFTER two months of testimony, closing arguments are scheduled for today in the manslaughter trial of David and Ginger Twitchell. Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Sandra Hamlin will then instruct the jury, which has been sequestered until it reaches a verdict. The judge's instructions on the complex legal issues involved could be crucial to the jury's decision.
The Twitchells, who are Christian Scientists, were charged because they relied on prayer instead of conventional medicine to treat their 2 1/2-year-old son, Robyn, during a five-day illness in 1986. The child died of what was later diagnosed as a bowel obstruction caused by a birth defect.
Special prosecutor John Kiernan spent most of last week finishing his rebuttal case.
A Christian Science nurse, Linda Blaisdell, earlier testified that she visited Robyn on the day before he died, but that he did not appear to be seriously ill. She stated that she kept a ``chart'' on what she observed or was told of the boy's condition. Mrs. Blaisdell turned the document over to the court two weeks ago.
Mr. Kiernan asserted, however, that more documents existed and that he had evidence a second Christian Science nurse had visited the child, and that this was ``common knowledge'' amoung Christian Scientists in the area.
Kiernan subpoenaed several people currently or previously associated with the Boston Christian Science Visiting Nurse Service, including Patricia Hughes, the service's chief nurse in 1986. He then questioned those subpoenaed in hearings without the jury present.
Defense counsels Rikki Klieman and Stephen Lyons objected that this constituted an improper attempt to gather new information after the prosecutor had rested his case. They also charged that Kiernan was launching an investigation into matters that had nothing to do with the Twitchells.
On Monday, Miss Hughes's lawyer, Anthony Traini, appealed to Justice Herbert Wilkins of the Massachussets Supreme Judicial Court to halt Hughes's testimony before the jury on 5th-Amendment grounds.
Justice Wilkins declined to intervene in an ongoing Superior Court trial, but noted in passing that ``it is a whole separate problem whether the voir dire [a hearing without the jury] should have gone on at all.''
Hughes testified that she had no other records regarding Robyn Twitchell, that she herself had not provided care to the child, and that she knew of no other nurse who had done so.
Kiernan also called nurse Arnise Brown, who succeeded Blaisdell, to the stand. Ms. Brown said she had never seen Blaisdell's report and had not herself visited Robyn Twitchell.
Jean Willets, the current visiting nurse, testified that she had searched the service's patient records and found nothing regarding any of the Twitchells.
Blaisdell resumed the stand to explain apparent discrepancies between her earlier testimony and what she had written in the 1986 report.
She told Kiernan that she had mistakenly omitted that she had heard the child moan once ``because I was concentrating on what I saw.'' She insisted that the child ``did not appear seriously ill when I saw him.''
Kiernan questioned Blaisdell intensely about why she had not produced her record earlier. She replied that she did not know where it was and that her lawyer had located it in the possession of an attorney she had retained during a December 1986 inquest in the case.
Kiernan's final rebuttal witness was Dr. Leonard Atkins, associate medical examiner for Suffolk County.