A woman accused of murdering her baby will testify in her own defense, and much of her trial will center on a “botched” autopsy, a jury learned this morning.
During opening arguments in the murder trial of Linda Wilborn, attorneys painted drastically divergent images of the Seal Beach mother of four. According to prosecutor Scott Simmons, Wilborn violently abused and neglected her 23-month-old, malnourished twins, ultimately killing her daughter one December afternoon in 2009 by squeezing her and slamming her against a hard surface.
But according to Deputy Public Defender Michael Becker, Wilborn is a deeply religious woman, an overwhelmed mother who gave birth to twins in her bathroom, a woman who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, and a victim of a botched and rushed investigation.
“This case is a classic rush to judgment. They made a predetermination of who they feel is responsible for the death of Millicent Wilborn,” said Becker.
From the police investigation to the autopsy, the evidence was skewed to fit a predetermined conclusion that Linda Wilborn killed her baby, he said.
“In fact, some of it is just plain made up,” he said.
With her dark hair in a long ponytail and wearing a pink blouse and cream suit, Wilborn shook her head as the prosecution laid out the case against her and cried softly as her attorney told jurors the story of her life.
Whereas Becker paced back and forth before the jurors, creating a very personal narrative of Wilborn’s life during his opening argument, Simmons stood still while moving rapidly through clinical terms and an outline of the evidence against Wilborn.
He showed jurors a picture of Millicent’s bruised corpse on an autopsy table and photos of her twin brother’s bruised chest. Expert testimony will show that the bruises are consistent with someone grabbing and squeezing the children, and broken ribs testify to the sheer force of the violence, said Simmons.
When Linda Wilborn called 911 because her daughter had stopped breathing, police arrived to find the toddler lying motionless on the floor next to a stack of neatly piled toys as her twin brother cried hysterically and hid his face.
“Millicent’s heart stopped, and that’s why she died,” Simmons told the jurors, concluding, “I ask that you find Ms. Wilborn guilty of all the counts.”
However, acknowledged Simmons, the autopsy in the case was substandard because the pathologist missed details and damaged Millicent’s heart in the process of the autopsy. Millicent's cause of death will be a major issue in the trial.
Simmons said Dr. Duc Duong cut the "pericardial sac'' as he conducted Millicent's autopsy. Another pathologist in the coroner's office, Dr. Anthony Juguilon, reviewed Duong's work and eventually concluded the victim had been slammed against a hard surface, causing her heart to fail, Simmons said.
Juguilon is expected to testify that Millicent had a bruise on her forehead, cuts to her lip, a cut on the chin and bruises on both sides of her chest and her left shoulder, Simmons said.
"Dr. Juguilon will tell you there were many internal injuries,'' the prosecutor told the jury. Some of the ribs were broken four to six weeks before the girl's death, and some rib injuries were more recent, Simmons said.
Juguilon is expected to testify "that it's very difficult to break the ribs on a 23-month-old child because the ribs are very flexible and pliable,'' Simmons said. "Dr. Juguilon will tell you it's very uncommon to break a child's ribs from rough CPR.''
However, “a lot of these injuries occurred when Linda Wilborn desperately tried to save the life of her child,” countered Becker.
“They really don't know ... the cause of death of Millicent Wilborn,'' Becker said, telling jurors that Duong "botched'' the autopsy.
Millicent was one of four young siblings. At the time of her death, she had a 3-year-old sister a twin brother, 24 months, and a 6-month-old brother. Wilborn married her husband Derrick, an Army recruiter, in 2004, and the couple lived in military housing in Seal Beach.
Todd DeVoe, Seal Beach’s emergency services coordinator, was one of the first responders. DeVoe gave the girl a "rescue breath,'' which showed she hadn't swallowed a toy and her airway was not blocked, but she had no pulse and his attempts at reviving her were unsuccessful, Simmons said.
DeVoe is expected to testify that he noticed signs of "unusual bruising,'' according to Simmons, who said investigators also found a "pot of blood'' from the victim on the carpet.
A social worker also noticed bruising on the chest of Millicent's twin, Garrick, so he was taken to Children's Hospital of Orange County, where doctors said he appeared underweight and was withdrawn while being treated, Simmons said.
The toddler also would fail to make eye contact, a sign of "emotional neglect,'' the prosecutor said. The social worker will testify that "Garrick was suffering from malnutrition,'' according to Simmons, who said the boy had not gained weight from June 2009 -- the last time he saw a doctor -- until the death of his twin but gained a pound and a half after just six days at CHOC. Garrick also had a skull fracture, the prosecutor said.
But rather than starved, the twins were very finicky eaters, Becker told the jurors.
Linda Wilborn was a loving mother doing her best to care four young children without the help of a husband, who spent his days working and his nights golfing, Becker said.
Wilborn was principally raised by her grandfather and aunt because her father was a long-haul trucker frequently on the road, and her mother abandoned her, Becker said.
Wilborn was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder when she was a child and had trouble managing time, causing her to take showers for hours at a time and stare indefinitely, Becker said.
Medication helped, and so did her husband, whom she met when she looked into signing up for the military, Becker said. Her husband helped her plan out her day with a schedule, and she learned to cope with her disorder through meditation, relaxation techniques, massages and exercise, Becker said.
The two were "happy, joyful'' when they learned she was pregnant with twins, Becker said, adding they wanted a large family.
Investigators in the case were quick to discount Wilborn as a loving mother, instead painting her as a killer, Becker said..
“They never accepted any other view. I think when you hear everything, you are going to have to find her not guilty,” he told the jury.
After the opening arguments, Seal Beach Police Detective Dave Bar took the stand to give a detailed account of the crime scene as he found it. The home, he noted, was sparse with no family photos, children’s drawings or any type of wall décor.
- City News Service contributed to this report.