OCEAN CITY – “Reasonable doubt” was an expression heard often this week as authorities sifted through the sordid details in the case involving an Ocean City woman charged with murder in the stillborn death of her child early last Thursday morning and the later discovery of three more fetuses stored in and around her house, but as the days went by and the physical investigation of the home came to a close, it became more obvious the case was short on reasonable and long on doubt.
Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd announced late yesterday he had dismissed the first- and second-degree murder and manslaughter charges against Freeman filed after the discovery dealing with the death of her viable fetus stillborn. Instead, Todd announced Freeman is now being charged with the first-degree murder of an infant child born to her in 2003.
It remains uncertain why Todd has dropped the initial murder charges against Freeman for the infant stillborn last week in favor of seeking a first-degree murder conviction in the death of a child born to her in 2003, but the prosecutor clearly believes he has a stronger case in the latter. Proving the fetus stillborn last week was “viable” under Maryland’s viable fetus statute enacted in 2005 would have likely been a slippery slope. It is unknown what physical evidence might have come to light late yesterday, but whatever it is, Todd evidently believes it provides him with a stronger case to prosecute.
“New charges against the defendant [Freeman] have been filed and are more applicable to the facts and circumstances of this case than charges brought under the Viable Fetus Statute of 2005,” Todd said in a statement.
The medical examiner’s report on the other three fetuses discovered in and around Freeman’s home was not expected to be released until next week, and it remains uncertain if Todd got the report yesterday or if he changed his approach to the prosecution based on the physical evidence collected on the scene or some statement made by Freeman during questioning.
In any event, the announcement late yesterday represents a dramatic change in the course of the case. The medical examiner had said the first fetus was about 26 weeks old, which makes it eligible for prosecution under the viable fetus statute, but the report also said the fetus was stillborn, which could make prosecuting Freeman for murder under the statute difficult.
The medical examiner is currently investigating the remains of the three other fetuses discovered at Freeman’s Ocean City home and it was learned late Wednesday the medical examiner is now consulting with other experts and no new information will be made available until next week at the earliest. While OCPD detectives continue their investigation in earnest behind the scenes, the crime scene on Sunset Drive, which became a ground zero of sorts in the resort for much of the week, has returned to normal.
The FBI forensics team with its bright red canopies, dirt sifters and cadaver dogs are long gone. The tall satellite towers, production vans and makeshift field offices of the national media are long gone as well. Also missing is the ubiquitous yellow tape that surrounded the area for practically a full block around the house in every direction.
There was a sense of normalcy around the site early yesterday as neighbors went about their morning routines, but the furor surrounding the case is far from over. While gruesome discoveries and the unforgettable scenes of mayhem are seemingly over for the time being, the case is just beginning for a lot of reasons.
The Case’s Beginning
The case started to unfold last Thursday, July 26, when Ocean City EMS and Ocean City Police responded to Freeman’s Sunset Drive home around 1 a.m. at the request of her longtime boyfriend, Ray Godman, Jr., who called 911 when Freeman was bleeding excessively, vomiting and had severe cramps and abdominal pain, according to police reports.
Godman told the EMTs and police Freeman had passed out in the bathroom and he had carried her to a sofa in the living room. Ocean City EMS transported Freeman to Atlantic General Hospital where she continued to have projectile vomiting and required eight units of blood. Doctors at AGH learned Freeman was pregnant, but she continued to deny ever being pregnant.
She was then transported to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury for further treatment. Doctors there found what they estimated was a 30-36-week old placenta inside Freeman’s womb with an irregular cut to the umbilical cord, yet there was not fetus inside the womb. All the while, Freeman continued to deny she was ever pregnant, according to police reports.
Doctors at PRMC noticed Freeman had 12 bruised areas to the left side of her body, including her inner thigh, stomach and leg, and seven bruised areas on her right side, including her inner thigh and forearm. When OCPD Dfc. Vickie Martin interviewed Freeman at the request of Worcester County Child Protective Services, Freeman ultimately relented and told the detective she had an infant while at her Sunset Drive residence.
Freeman referred to the infant as “gloopity glop” and said she “pushed on the infant and umbilical cord snapped,” according to police reports. Freeman told the detective the infant was deformed and deceased. She said she did not see any hand or feet and that she flushed the infant down the toilet. Based on her statements, at no time did Freeman attempt to provide any type of medical treatment for the fetus, nor did she ever mention to police or EMTs at the scene that she had just had a baby, according to police reports.
OCPD detectives obtained a search and seizure warrant for her residence on Sunset Drive, where she lived with Godman and their four children. OCPD Crime Scene Technicians Sgt. Mark Paddack, CST Sharon Schultz and CST Robert Luckett executed the search warrant and made the first gruesome discovery.
Freeman was charged with first- and second-degree murder and manslaughter under Maryland’s Viable Fetus Statute.
About four days after the discovery of Freeman’s infant wrapped in a towel in the bathroom vanity, the state medical examiner determined the fetus was about 26 weeks old, which put it past the point in its gestation period where it was considered viable. The medical examiner also discovered the infant had been stillborn, which somewhat complicates Freeman’s prosecution under the viable fetus statute.
More Gruesome Discoveries
During a search of the rest of Freeman’s home throughout the day on Thursday and into Friday morning, OCPD detectives made more discoveries that turned what had been a relatively quiet investigation into the suspicious circumstances of the stillborn death of a single fetus into a full-blown national media circus.
The search revealed a garbage bag hidden inside a trunk in Freeman’s bedroom. Inside the garbage bag were three smaller plastic bags. Two contained human infant remains and the other contained what police believed to be a placenta. However, that was not the end of the gruesome discoveries made by police in and around the residence.
On Friday afternoon, detectives secured a search and seizure warrant for a recreational vehicle parked in the driveway of Freeman’s home, Inside the motor home, a Winnebago, detectives discovered another garbage bag containing human infant remains. The number of fetuses found in and around the residence now stood at four and what started as a trickle of information about the initial case turned into a flood of national attention as the case continued to unfold.
Based on what they had found already, and on what they had been told by Freeman, who reportedly spoke candidly to detectives about the situation in the early hours after the initial discovery, the investigation was expanded to include the grounds of the residence and the vacant lot adjacent to it.
Over the weekend, the crime scene was secured and, because of the complexities of the investigation, the FBI Evidence Response Team joined the OCPD team as it prepared to excavate the adjacent vacant lot. Cadaver dogs were brought in and indicated there could be more remains on or under the grassy lot.
Early Monday morning, crews removed trees and bushes from the perimeter of the lot and by late Monday afternoon, a backhoe carefully removed the top layer of sod from the lot.
The vacant lot was then sectioned off in a grid marked by string as the FBI Evidence Response Team prepared to meticulously sift through the soil looking for evidence. The investigation continued throughout the evening hours on Monday and throughout the day on Tuesday, but no new evidence was found. By early Wednesday morning, the excavation was complete and the FBI pulled out of the investigation, turning it back over to the OCPD.
Courtroom Drama On Monday
While the OCPD and their FBI counterparts were preparing to excavate the vacant lot on Sunset Drive early Monday morning, more drama was unfolding at the District Court building on 65th Street where Freeman was scheduled for a bond review.
An unusually large crowd formed in the courtroom for Freeman’s bail hearing, but they were forced to sit through the rather mundane docket of petty drug cases and open container cases before they ever got a glimpse of Freeman. Finally, around 11:30 a.m., Freeman, clad in a blue prison jumpsuit with handcuffs and leg irons, was led into the courtroom through a side door and found her place at the defense table.
After some brief discussion between Judge Daniel Mumford, Deputy State’s Attorney Mike Farlow and Freeman’s preliminary attorney, Frank Benvenuto, it was decided the bond hearing would be held at 1 p.m. About an hour and a half later, Freeman was brought back into the courtroom and the bond review went off as scheduled.
Speaking on her own behalf, Freeman told Mumford she was not a flight risk and urged him to let her out on bond so she could clear her name.
“The purpose of a bond is to make sure I show up for my court appearances, right?” she asked the judge. “I promise I will do that. I need to clear my name in this case. I guarantee I’m going to clear this situation up.”
Freeman also told the judge she no reason to flee because everything she had was in Ocean City.
“All my ties are here,” she said. “My family, my house, my business – everything I have is here. I’ve lived here 15 years and would never run away. I don’t even have to money to get very far if I did.”
Despite Freeman’s impassioned pleas, Mumford denied bail and ordered her held in custody until any and all legal action had run its course.
Other Suspects Not Ruled Out
While he has been questioned, Freeman’s longtime boyfriend, Ray Godman, is not considered a suspect at this time. During an afternoon press conference on Monday, DiPino said Freeman was obviously the prime suspect but said there could be others implicated in the case at the investigation unfolded.
“The woman we have in custody is the prime suspect, but we’re not ruling out any other suspects at this point,” she said. “The boyfriend is not a suspect, but we’re not ruling anybody out as an accomplice.”
DiPino also said investigators believe Freeman is the mother of each of the fetuses discovered. “At this point, we believe all four belonged to Ms. Freeman,” she said.
Todd said on Monday any additional charges would come only after the investigation has run its course.
“If and when we develop probable cause, more charges could be pending,” he said.
A Media Circus
News that as many as four dead fetuses were discovered in and around the Freeman home began to trickle out at first over the weekend and quickly turned into a flood of unwanted national exposure for Ocean City at the height of the summer season.
By early Monday morning, most of the major national news outlets had set up shop on Sunset Drive near the crime scene as helicopters hovered above.
Neighbors and friends were interviewed, some representing the resort better than others, while local property owners brokered deals with the big media companies for the use of their space. In one reported instance, a property owner asked for and received $1,500 for the use of a staging area for a national network on Sunday, but as the story escalated, the price went up to $5,000 by Monday.
By Wednesday morning, most of the national media had cleared out of the area, undoubtedly off to the next shocking and unbelievable story somewhere else in the country.
By mid-morning on Wednesday, investigators had completed their search of the residence and the surrounding properties and the crime scene was released. OCPD detectives did collect some more evidence from the residence itself before the crime scene was released on Wednesday – evidence OCPD spokesman Barry Neeb called “items of potential evidentiary value.”
What Happens Next?
The next significant event in the case will be the release of the final findings of the state medical examiner on the other three fetuses discovered in and around Freeman’s home.
The report, which could be released as early as next week, could go a long way in clearing up some of the big questions that remain unanswered.
Todd has said he will seek a grand jury indictment for the murder charges against Freeman for a death in 2003. Neeb said yesterday it was not expected that a special grand jury will be convened in the case, but rather, a regular monthly convening of a grand jury will be used.
In the meantime, Freeman remains in custody in the Worcester County Jail. A preliminary hearing has been set of Aug. 27 in District Court.