Star-Tribune - Casper, WY December 2, 2009
Murder case moves ahead
By WILLIAM BROWNING | Star-Tribune staff writer
Just before noon on Nov. 15, Bethany McGehee went shopping at the Eastridge Mall with her daughter and friend, leaving her two young sons at home with their father.
Preparing the family for a church service later that evening, she pushed her bedroom door open in search of her infant son. What she found was a horrifying scene that has led to her husband, Samuel Eugene McGehee, being charged with the murder of their 9-month-old son, Joseph.
Authorities say Samuel McGehee covered his son's head with a coat after the child wouldn't take a nap after being fed. An autopsy revealed that the boy, who had been left alone in the room for roughly four hours, died from asphyxiation.
"You might as well put that kid's head in a plastic bag," District Attorney Michael Blonigen said Tuesday during a preliminary hearing in Natrona County Circuit Court.
A judge Tuesday ruled enough evidence exists for McGehee to stand trial for the child's death. The case has been bound over to Natrona County District Court.
McGehee, 38, faces life in prison if convicted.
Another disturbing incident involving alleged child abuse in the McGehee household came to light during Tuesday's hearing.
A detective testified that in March 2008, McGehee, concerned about the family's financial state, decided to circumcise his other son at home, using a filet knife.
"There was severe damage to the shaft of the penis," Detective Shawn Jenkins said. "There was a lot of skin removed."
The 3-month-old's scrotum was also lacerated during the procedure, Jenkins said. The child has subsequently endured extensive reconstructive surgeries, and more are expected.
On Tuesday, McGehee was also formally charged with felony child abuse for the 2008 incident.
'Business as usual'
Bethany McGehee told investigators she found Joseph McGehee's lifeless body roughly 15 minutes before 6 p.m. on Nov. 15.
"She described him as blotchy and blue, and his eyes were fixed and dilated," Detective Christina Tweedy testified Tuesday.
They performed CPR for about 20 minutes -- Samuel breathing into the child's mouth while Bethany "massaged" his chest, Tweedy said.
Bethany then wrapped the baby in a blanket and drove to her pastor's home, where someone called 911.
Asked why Bethany didn't take the child to the Wyoming Medical Center, Tweedy said the couple indicated that "they thought the pastor could breathe life into him again."
The pastor told investigators that when he saw the body, "his jaw was stiff, he couldn't get his mouth to open," suggesting that rigor-mortis had set in, Tweedy said.
Later that evening, when investigators arrived at the McGehee home on South Washington Street, Samuel McGehee let them in and didn't ask any questions, Tweedy said. She said she found that "odd."
"He just seemed like it was business as usual," the detective said.
She testified that McGehee told investigators, "I'm going to have to face the consequences of what happened today."
The coat that McGehee used to cover the child's head, Tweedy said, was a female's, about medium size and blue.
Tweedy testified that a medical examiner found blue fibers on the baby's fingers and beneath the infant's fingernails, indicating he struggled to push the coat away.
"That coat, by someone, was held in place over that child's mouth," Blonigen said.
Tweedy said investigators found the coat beneath a pile of clothes on the bed. That seemed to suggest someone was trying to hide it.
A small amount of vomit was found in the armpit, she said.
McGehee's attorney, Public Defender Rob Oldham, asked Jenkins whether after his arrest, McGehee ever indicated he wanted to kill or hurt his son.
"No," he replied.
McGehee told Jenkins at one point during an interview, "Just because you have feelings for somebody, you don't always do what's best," the detective said.
Jenkins also testified Tuesday that on March 29, 2008, he responded to a call from the Wyoming Medical Center about an infant having been circumcised at home.
On that day, McGehee told investigators he had consulted with several doctors who said they wouldn't circumcise the then-3-month-old infant until he was at least 9 months old. The dangers, Jenkins said doctors told McGehee, included excessive bleeding of blood vessels in the penis.
Roughly 30 minutes after trying to carry out the procedure at home using a filet knife, McGehee and his wife took the child to the hospital because he would not stop bleeding, Jenkins said.
Jenkins testified that during his interview with McGehee about the circumcision, he found McGehee "very emotional" and "distraught."
"I didn't see any of that with Joseph," Jenkins said, referring to the other son who died.
Reached Tuesday afternoon, Blonigen declined to discuss why McGehee wasn't prosecuted for the circumcision incident when it occurred.
At the beginning of the hearing Tuesday morning, McGehee informed the court he was having trouble hearing and asked to be allowed to sit closer to the witness stand.
"There's no one here that I have any ill will or ill feelings toward," he said.
"This seems to become worse as the charges become more serious," Blonigen said of McGehee's hearing difficulty.
In an effort to help him hear witnesses, McGehee was allowed to sit directly in front of Natrona County Circuit Judge Michael Patchen throughout the nearly two-hour-long proceedings.
He remains in the Natrona County Detention Center on $250,000 bond.
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