Mother described shaking, screaming, pounding
Matthew Ogden, who faces charges of first-degree murder in the violent death of his baby daughter, offered investigators several explanations for how little Sarah suffered what proved to be fatal injuries, but none of them rang true, according to an arrest affidavit made public Tuesday.
Besides that, Phyllis Wyatt, the girl’s mother, contradicted him.
Ogden said at different points that Sarah may have hit her head in her bouncy chair, a dog had knocked her off the couch, a cousin may have hurt her or Ogden may have hit her with his own head while asleep.
The affidavit said Ogden settled on a story that, two days before the death, he had been excited by seeing Wyatt showering and jumped onto the bed, bouncing Sarah into the air and causing her to hit her head on a windowsill.
In reality, an autopsy showed, Sarah suffered two potentially fatal injuries: bruising to her liver and a blunt force impact to the forehead that fractured her skull and caused hemorrhaging in her brain.
Wyatt told investigators she awoke late June 19 or early June 20 to see Ogden violently shaking their daughter. He took the infant into the living room, where Wyatt heard him screaming at the girl, along with “horrific” pounding or thumping noises. Sarah wasn’t crying when he returned with her and laid back down, Wyatt said, so she went to back to sleep. A few hours later, Ogden woke her and told her the baby wasn’t breathing.
“She immediately thought that Matthew Ogden was responsible for the death of her child,” said the affidavit prepared by Lisa Miller, chief investigator for the Ninth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Wyatt, known as Amy to her friends, told authorities she didn’t do anything to stop Ogden. She said she was afraid of him and was “a prisoner in her own home.”
Ogden, 29, and Wyatt, 41, who lived together and had twins in Grand Junction on May 18, were arrested Monday in Minnesota. Wyatt, 41, faces charges of child abuse causing death with criminal negligence.
Two other people lived in the Parachute apartment and called 911, the document said. One of the roommates was performing CPR on Sarah when police arrived at the apartment just after 7 a.m. June 20, the affidavit said. Sarah was pronounced dead at Grand River Hospital in Rifle at 11:15 a.m.
Sarah’s twin brother was taken into protective custody. He was uninjured, Parachute Police Chief Cary Parmenter said Tuesday, although though the affidavit says that a hair follicle test found he had been indirectly exposed to marijuana. Parmenter said he didn’t know if the boy was still with DHS or had been turned over to extended family.
“I feel sorry for the family members of Sarah and for her brother, who’s going to grow up without a sister,” Parmenter said.
Police interviewed the couple and their two roommates on June 22.
The arrest affidavit, partially drawn from those interviews, portrays two troubled people struggling with parenting.
Ogden, who told police he is schizophrenic, said he woke up because the baby was crying. He said he bottle-fed Sarah, burped her and placed her next to him on the couple’s bed, saying Timothy also was there. The autopsy, though, found no evidence of formula in the baby’s stomach.
Wyatt, who described herself to investigators as bipolar, had previously talked about driving off a cliff, killing herself and the babies — but told investigators she didn’t mean it.
When police asked why she seemed “checked out” that morning, Wyatt said she thought Ogden was responsible for Sarah’s death but was too afraid of him to tell police, the affidavit said. Pressed as to whether her life was better with one child instead of two, she said it was.
Ogden and Wyatt collected their belongings and left together on the evening of June 22.
Bill Matthews, a resident of the apartment complex who sometimes drank beer with Ogden and said he had seemed excited about being a parent, told a Post Independent reporter Monday that he saw the couple that day and they did not seem that affected by what had happened.
“Maybe that’s just how people deal with it,” he said.
The two apparently fled at that point.
Police Chief Parmenter on Tuesday defended the decision not to immediately arrest the pair.
“We didn’t want to go too quick on charging,” he said. “We only get one shot at it, so we wanted to make sure all our ducks were in a row.”
On June 26, Judge Denise Lynch signed a warrant for Ogden for first-degree murder of a child by a person in a position of trust, a first-degree felony; child abuse causing death, a second-degree felony; and two counts child abuse causing serious bodily injury, a third-degree felony; and a warrant for Wyatt for criminally negligent child abuse causing death, a third-degree felony.
According to Parmenter, the couple moved to the area several months ago from California, prompting authorities to begin their hunt in that direction, but it was another line of inquiry that finally paid off.
“There was a comment made the day of the interviews about Minnesota,” said Parmenter. “It was just a hunch.”
They reached out to area law enforcement, and the Cass County Sheriff’s Office in north-central Minnesota got a tip that the couple might be at a home in the Cass Lake area. Cass County authorities, the Leech Lake Tribal Police Department and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension arrested the pair without incident.
“I’ve got to give credit to the Cass County law enforcement for having their heads up,” said Parmenter.
Ogden was ordered held without bond and Wyatt on a $300,000 bond while authorities work out the details of extradition.
Meanwhile, Parachute is left reeling from its first homicide since 2005.
“It’s enormous in a small town. Everybody knows everybody,” said Parmenter. “It affects the community, and it affects the officers,” he said. “They respond to fights, shootings, stabbings.” Unfortunately, small towns aren’t immune to such incidents, Parmenter said.
“Things like this happen anywhere,” he said. “It’s still a very safe place.”
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