A federal prosecutor charged today that a U.S. Navy supply clerk and his wife starved their 9 1/2 -month-old daughter to death by depriving her of life-giving fluids and nourishment.
Defense attorneys said that the baby, Alyson Nicole Snyder, was continually ill almost from the time she was born in February 1989. They contend that a state medical examiner botched an autopsy in which he ruled her death a homicide due to child neglect after she died the day before Thanksgiving that year.
The defendants are Peter J. and Vicki L. Snyder, who live in base housing on the Patuxent Naval Air Station in Lexington Park. The career sailor and his wife were charged last fall in a one-count indictment with "willfully and unlawfully" murdering their daughter on federal property based on evidence from a Naval Investigative Service probe.
During opening statements today in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Welsh told the jury that the Snyders "caused Alyson's death by depriving her of necessary fluids and nourishment" despite instructions from doctors on how to feed the child.
Welsh attributed Alyson's death to dehydration. He said Dr. Frank Peretti, the assistant state medical examiner who performed the autopsy, ruled her death a homicide because the pathologist "found not a speck of food anywhere in this child's system."
Peretti also found elevated chemicals in the child's brain that indicated she had gone without food for five to 10 days, Welsh said.
Defense attorneys Edward Smith Jr. and Anthony M. Gallager, an assistant federal public defender, said the indictment is the product of errors in the investigation and autopsy.
Gallagher, who called the murder charge "a witch hunt," said Alyson suffered from "a severe infection" that elevated her temperature. He said her symptoms "were either not recognized or were totally ignored" by Peretti and a doctor at Patuxent River Naval Hospital who examined the child's body after her parents found her dead at home.
Smith said the Snyders had "no motive" to kill their daughter, and he challenged Welsh's statement that the couple did not feed Alyson and their daughter Amanda, who was 18 months old when Alyson died.
Smith said Alyson lost weight because of her inability to thrive on a milk-based formula.