Defendant describes waking up to dead baby during trial - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Defendant describes waking up to dead baby during Lufkin co-sleeping death trial

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) -

The trial of a Lufkin man accused in the death of his two-month-old infant ended early Wednesday with both sides resting in the testimony phase.

Closing arguments and deliberations will take place on Wednesday.

Mark Clark and his wife, Vanessa, were indicted in 2011 and charged with child endangerment.  Investigators said the Clarks fell asleep with baby Tristan in their bed around 11:30 p.m.  They woke up to check on the baby and he was unresponsive.

In 2009, the couple was investigated for the death of another child who died while sleeping in bed with them.  An autopsy report of the first child's death said Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was the cause.  No trauma was found.

Prosecutors say the couple should have learned from that first baby's death.  Both had undergone safe sleeping training and had been advised that co-sleeping with their infant child was not safe.

Prosecutor Dale Summa asked Dana Perez, an employee with the Department of Public Safety crime lab, about toxicology reports she conducted on Clark's blood. She revealed finding Hydrocodone in Clark's blood.

Summa asked the witness about the purpose of the drug. He also asked about the purpose of taking Xanax.

"That's a painkiller," said Perez.

Summa asked the toxicologist if the amount of Hydrocodone she found in the blood sample was in the normal range for someone prescribed to take the medication.

"This is consistent with the levels that would be at," said the witness.

In cross-examination, Clark's attorney, Bill Agnew, questioned the toxicologist about her findings. Agnew brought into question the amount of Hydrocodone and Xanax found in Vanessa Clark's blood. Agnew read a transcript which indicated the level of each drug discovered in Vanessa's system. While her Hydrocodone measurement was consistent with someone taking the medication, the Xanax measurement was not.

"That's quite high," said the witness.

Before being dismissed, the witness agreed with Agnew that Mark Clark's toxicology results proved consistent with someone taking Hydrocodone and Xanax medications.

The state then called upon Lufkin Police Officer Nicholas Malone. Malone testified that he spoke with the Clarks when they arrived at the hospital with baby Tristan.

"They told me about a year before they had lost an infant child. And, that death was determined to be Sudden Infant Death Syndrome," said Malone.

Malone testified that Clark did not say he was unaware that the baby was placed in the bed with him. Malone also told jurors that the Clarks were honest when officers asked them questions at the hospital.

Summa called Det. Brad Havard of the Lufkin Police Department back to the stand.

The prosecutor asked Havard about Clark mentioning the death of another child when he interrogated Clark at the hospital. Havard said there was mention of the child.

"They had lost a child a year before, and it was from SIDS," said Havard.

Havard, however, said that Clark did not mention that he was unaware of baby Tristan being placed in the bed with him.

Summa called upon James Height, who testified he worked for the Hudson Police Department during the time of Tristan's death. The witness said he went and knocked on the Clarks' door when he was dispatched to the scene.

The prosecutor asked the officer if Clark mentioned the infant co-sleeping with them.

"He was the one who said the child slept in the bed with him because he had problems sleeping," said the witness.

Next on the stand, the state called upon Jeffrey Barnard, Chief Medical Examiner for Dallas County.

The prosecution asked Barnard about specifics of the autopsy his office conducted on baby Tristan.

Barnard described the processes involved in external and internal examinations, as well as what he looks for during those exams. The witness described that he was able to easily rule out several causes of death through examination.

"I took tissue from the brain, looking for meningitis," said Barnard. "There was no microscopic evidence of pneumonia."

Summa asked Barnard what his findings overall ruled Tristan's death to be.

"My cause of death would be undetermined, which means I was unable to definitively determine a cause of death," said Barnard.

Barnard discussed that there were a couple options that could explain the death: co-sleeping or a genetic heart abnormality that he could not detect.

Following this testimony, the state rested.

The defense began presenting evidence by playing a video of Clark's police interview for jurors.

"I don't understand man. This is the second time it's going on," a sobbing Clark told the officer in the interview.

As he continued talking, it appeared Clark was trying to make sense of the events, questioning if his wife was to blame.

"I don't know man. I don't know. I don't want to think that about my wife," said Clark.

Clark continued to make sense of Tristan's death, describing how the child was found.

"He was laying beside her. This is the second time," said Clark. "I'm not accusing her. I don't want to accuse her. He was smiling and laughing yesterday. I don't understand."

During the interview, Clark appears distraught and is obviously tearful. He describes that Vanessa was a stay-at-home mom during the time of the interview.

Clark talks about his prescription drug use in the video. He also addresses using illegal substances.

"I do smoke a little bit of marijuana," said Clark.

Clark continues to cry and is emotional in the interview. He talks about the infant he and his wife lost the year before Tristan died. He describes the instances as being very similar. Clark says he told his wife to place the baby in its bassinet, but woke up to it in the bed where he found it cold. He says he then administered CPR.

The interview stops briefly because Clark begins to sob uncontrollably.

Clark says Tristan was fed through a bottle. When he died, Clark said the baby had not been given any medications although he was slightly ill, suffering from breathing issues. The baby was scheduled to have a doctor's appointment the next morning.

Clark said Vanessa told him she watched a minister on television who appeared to be speaking to her the night before Tristan died. Clark says the minister knew she wanted another baby, one who didn't suffer breathing problems. Clark said he was confused as to what his wife was talking about.

"She said that baby won't have that problem anymore," said Clark.

In tears, Clark says the next day, "this happened." Clark says when his wife woke up and felt the baby cold, she immediately gave the baby to him. Clark says he told Vanessa to call 911, and he administered CPR.

The officer asked Clark if his wife ever did anything to make him suspicious of her activities.

"The way she treats the 3-year-old because he's so attached to me because I pretty much raised him. She's constantly on his butt," said Clark.

In the interview, Clark admitted that he was unresolved in his heart about what was Vanessa's role in Tristan's death. The officer suggested that Clark stay or visit elsewhere and not be accusatory in the situation, as to not create conflict between the couple.

After the video was played, the defense rested.

Copyright 2012 KTRE. All rights reserved.

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