ONAWA, Iowa — A mother accused of drowning her toddler in a bathtub took the stand Friday and denied that she repeatedly stuck her son's head under the faucet.
Instead, Ashley Cameron testified she left the room to get shampoo and clothes, leaving 15-month-old Markis Dahms alone with his 2˝-year-old sister, Abigail. Cameron returned to find Markis lying in the water.
“At any point did you hold Markis' head under the spigot ... to rinse his mouth out?” her attorney, Mike Williams, asked.
Cameron replied: “No.”
Cameron, 25, is charged with first-degree murder in the Feb. 11, 2012, drowning death of her son. If convicted, she faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The trial ended Friday with the prosecution giving closing arguments. Williams will submit the defense's closing arguments in writing by Tuesday. Monona County District Court Judge Jeffrey Neary will then render a verdict after considering the evidence.
Police have said Cameron called 911 just after 7 p.m. that night. Markis was taken to the Burgess Health Center in Onawa, where he was pronounced dead.
An autopsy later determined that the boy's drowning was a homicide.
During her testimony, Cameron said Markis had thrown up both before and during the bath. She placed her two children in the tub and left for a few minutes. When she returned, she realized Markis was in trouble and tried to give him CPR, doing compressions with two fingers. She stopped to text a friend for help before calling 911.
Williams asked Cameron why she contacted a friend before calling emergency dispatchers.
“I freaked out. I didn't know what to do,” she said. “I was panicking. ... I was a mess.”
Under cross-examination, Susan Krisko, a lawyer with the State Attorney General's Office, pointed to the differences between what Cameron originally told investigators and her testimony on Friday. Cameron at one point said that she saw Abigail hold her brother under the water.
Cameron testified that she was confused while being interviewed by investigators. “Any mom that would see her son die would not know how to react in that situation,” she said.
She also testified that she was afraid of what her family would think if they knew that she had left her children unsupervised in the bathtub.
In an interview after Friday's court proceedings, the Rev. Craig Bock said he has visited Cameron frequently during the year she has been in jail awaiting trial. He described her as the kind of person who is easily influenced.
“If an officer raised a scenario, she would believe it,” said Bock, pastor of a Lutheran church in nearby Sloan, Iowa.
He recalled taking Cameron and her two children on a shopping trip to Sioux City before Markis died.
She doted on her kids, he said, and it was obvious that she loved them.
“She was more concerned with finding things for her kids” than for herself, he said.
In his closing arguments, Assistant Monona County Attorney Ian McConeghey said the story Cameron initially told investigators — that she had placed the child's head under the spigot — best fit the physical evidence.
Markis swallowed 550 milliliters of fluid or more, McConeghey said. During the ambulance ride to the hospital, a police officer noted that the child's stomach was distended — as if he had swallowed a bowling ball.
Drowning takes two or three minutes. That means Cameron had plenty of time to consider her actions, he said.
A woman who identified herself as Cameron's aunt said anyone who heard the recording of Cameron's 911 call that night could not think that she had harmed her child.
The recording was played in court while Cameron was on the stand. On the recording, she shrieks: “My son is not breathing! ... He was in a bathtub!”
The female dispatcher urges Cameron to calm down: “I can't understand you.” But Cameron continues to yell.
As the recording played, Cameron pulled off her wire frame glasses and wiped her eyes with a tissue. She bent her head down and began to sob.
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