Woman Cleared Of Wrongdoing In Murder Probe
SNOW HILL - In a stunning turn of events this week, prosecutors dropped all charges against the Ocean City woman charged with first-degree murder in the death of her newborn child sometime in 2004 after the state Medical Examiner's Office reported there was inconclusive evidence the fetus, or any of the other three fetuses found in and around her resort residence, were ever alive.
The criminal aspect of the sensational case, which created a national media circus on Sunset Drive this summer and put Ocean City on the map for all the wrong reasons in the height of the season, ended on Wednesday when a Worcester County grand jury followed State's Attorney Joel Todd's recommendation not to return an indictment for first-degree murder on Christy Lynn Freeman, 37, of Ocean City. Todd's recommendation to the grand jury came after he received the Medical Examiner's report, which essentially said there was no conclusive evidence any of the four fetuses were ever alive.
The state Medical Examiner's Office told The Dispatch on Monday the cause of death in three of the fetuses was ruled undetermined and the manner of death was ruled not applicable, which essentially means they were not viable fetuses at the time of their death. Todd said yesterday he had received the examiner's report last Friday, which was why he recommended the grand jury not hand down an indictment for murder against Freeman.
'The testimony of the medical examiner was - no pun intended - the fatal blow in this case,' he said. 'You have to prove the victim of a homicide had been alive. If the medical examiner can't prove life, there is no way to prove a homicide.'
Bizarre Case Begins To Unfold In Late July
Freeman was charged with first-degree murder in the death of her newborn son, a twin, in 2004. The charges were filed after investigators discovered her recently delivered stillborn fetus wrapped in a towel under the bathroom sink in her Ocean City home on July 27. The investigation led to the discovery of three more fetuses in and around her home including two, dating back to 2004, wrapped in plastic bags at the bottom of a trunk in her bedroom and a fourth similarly wrapped found in a recreational vehicle parked in the driveway of the home.
During a jailhouse interview following the discovery of her most recent fetus on July 27, Freeman told an OCPD detective one of the fetuses found in the trunk was the first of two twins she delivered in 2004, which she allowed to die in the toilet. The admission led state prosecutors to drop the charges against her for the death of her most recent child in late July and apply first-degree murder charges against her for the death of her full-term or near full-term infant in 2004.
Grand Jury Hears Preliminary Evidence
The case against Freeman moved from an investigative phase to a prosecutorial one as Todd began to build his case against the alleged murderer. In early August, Todd presented the preliminary evidence to a Worcester County grand jury and even questioned Freeman's longtime boyfriend Ray Godman and the couple's four grown children, but any indictment was put on hold pending the final report from the Medical Examiner's Office, which the prosecutor received last Friday.
Armed with the realization Freeman could not be successfully prosecuted for murder if her alleged victim, or victims, had not been alive, Todd had to wait until the grand jury convened on Wednesday to present the final piece of evidence in the case. The grand jury followed the prosecutor's recommendation on Wednesday morning.
Charges Officially Dropped
On Wednesday afternoon, Todd asked Ocean City District Court Judge Daniel Mumford to officially drop the charges against Freeman. A short time later, Freeman was released from the Worcester County Jail where she had spent the last 54 days held without bond. Clearly relieved but angry, Freeman called The Dispatch after her release on Wednesday afternoon, but withheld any strong comments on the advice of her attorneys.
When asked during the press conference in Snow Hill yesterday why he delayed releasing Freeman when he knew last Friday he would not be able to prosecute the case against her based on the medical examiner's report, Todd explained he had a specific protocol to follow with regards to the grand jury.
'I recommended no charges be filed by the grand jury,' he said. 'They're not bound to follow my recommendation, so I had to wait until the grand jury reconvened this week. Once they voted not to pursue charges against Miss Freeman, I took the appropriate measures to drop the charges against her in District Court yesterday [Wednesday] afternoon.'
Alleged Cocaine Use Called a Factor
Todd said the medical examiner issued fetal death certificates for the four fetuses she examined after determining there was no definitive evidence of life. He said the medical examiner's report listed several medical and societal factors including Freeman's history of miscarriages or stillborn deaths, a history of placental infections, tobacco use and alleged cocaine use. 'I'm told cocaine use alone can trigger miscarriages or stillborn deaths,' he said.
Examiner's Report Overrides Confession
In the end, the scientific evidence, or lack of conclusive evidence, superseded Freeman's confession to OCPD Detective Vicki Martin first on July 27 and again on July 30.
According to the charging documents, Martin asked Freeman if Twin One was dead or alive, to which Freeman responded, 'don't know.' Martin then asked Freeman if she checked to see if the baby was alive and she replied, 'I didn't check.'
When Martin asked Freeman if she provided any pre-natal care or called 911 or EMS, she simply responded, 'no,' and when Martin asked the suspect if that was because it meant nothing to her, Freeman replied, 'yes.'
In a subsequent interview on July 30, Martin went back to issue of whether Freeman knew Twin One was alive at the time she let it die in the toilet and her chilling, one-word response revealed she did know the baby was alive. 'I stated the first twin was alive,' Martin wrote in her report. 'Freeman nodded her head in agreement and said •€˜yea.''
When asked about the alleged confession yesterday, Todd said under normal circumstances he would not discuss it, but because it was written into the statement of facts, and therefore part of the public record, he could go into the details of the confession.
'It's inappropriate for an attorney to discuss the confession of a suspect,' he said. 'However, it is appropriate to comment on the statement of facts in the public record.'
With that said, Todd essentially read the section of the statement of facts that outlined Freeman's confession in early August. Despite the apparent damaging statements included in the confession, Todd said the medical examiner's final report was sufficient reason to drop the charges against Freeman.
'An uncorroborated confession in Maryland is not sufficient for a conviction,' he said. 'Once Dr. Greenberg gave us our answer, that was the last piece of evidence. Sometimes, justice requires letting a suspect go. That's what we're after- justice. When we got this last piece of evidence, we had to let it go.'
Top Cop Defends Handling Of Case
When asked if he was disappointed in the outcome, a stoic Todd said the case was based on the facts from the beginning and he had no personal opinion about the guilt or innocence of Freeman.
'The Office of the State's Attorney doesn't prosecute cases based on personal feelings, but rather the facts of the case,' he said. 'Based on the facts in this case, there is insufficient probable cause to move forward with it. We apply the facts to the law, or the law to the facts, and in this case, there was just not enough to proceed.'
When asked if he had any regrets about holding Freeman for roughly seven weeks on a first-degree murder charge that later proved fruitless, Todd said the overwhelming physical evidence in the case early on prior to the release of the medical examiner's report warranted holding her without bond. He said the initial charge was based on a collaborative effort between his office and the Ocean City Police Department.
'It was the judgment of the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) and the state's attorney to present the facts to an independent magistrate of the court,' he said. 'The court commissioner reviewed the evidence and found probable cause.'
What Happens Next?
While Freeman has been cleared of any and all charges related to the deaths of her four fetuses, many have questioned whether or not wrapping and saving fetal remains in and around one's property for an extended period of time, years in this case, was against any laws or statutes. When asked if there was anything on the books to prosecute Freeman for saving the remains of the fetuses in and around her home, Todd said he was uncertain.
'There should be,' he said. 'Our investigation did not get into that. We were looking at this strictly as a homicide. Our investigation is concluded.'
Todd told the media assembled yesterday he was proud of how the OCPD, the FBI, all of the allied law enforcement agencies and his office handled the case from the beginning. He said despite the outcome, he wouldn't have done anything differently.
'I have no regrets for the process,' he said. 'The police department did a tremendous job as they gathered the evidence. Nothing was done wrong here and I have no second guesses as to what happened along the way.'
While saying definitively the case was closed from his perspective, Todd did not entirely rule out any future action during yesterday's press conference, although he said it was unlikely.
'We always keep our minds open,' he said. 'At this point, I'm not anticipating any more investigation. Unless new facts come to light, this is over.'
While it is over from a criminal investigation and prosecution standpoint, the case could be just getting started from a civil standpoint. Freeman and Godman have said already they are pursuing multiple civil lawsuits in the case, although they would not go into details. Both were in attendance at yesterday's press conference and both spoke at the conclusion of Todd's official statement and question and answer period.
'I just want to say thanks to our friends in the community who stood by me through all of this,' said Freeman. 'I also want to thank my defense team.'
Godman echoed her sentiments.
'Thanks to our friends in town who stood by us,' he said, 'We want to get past this and get on with our lives.'