<BR> Trial of mother of drowned child begins
- Bill Sheehy
- Central Oregonian - News
During a press conference held last week, the accused and her attorney told their version of events surrounding the drowning death of 2-year old Christian Baller almost exactly a year ago
By the time this report on Melissa Baller's press conference, where she made her teary claim of innocence, is read, her trial will have started and it'll be the jury she will have to convince.
Baller is the 20-year old mother of the young child who drowned in the Crooked River a year ago. Following a pre-trial hearing last week, she and her attorney, John Hummel, faced television cameras and reporters at a press conference to present their case. The trial, which is expected to take up to three days, began this morning.
The story presented by Baller and her attorney was heart wrenchingly told. With tears streaming down her face, Melissa Baller recounted the events leading up to the last time she saw her son alive. She then went on to tell how, after the body of her son Christian had been found, she was charged with child neglect.
"It baffles me," Hummel said, responding to a question of why the charges were brought against his client. "I don't know why he (District Attorney Gary Williams) is proceeding."
The only reasons for bringing the charges, Hummel said, had to be either punishment or as a detriment to others. His client, he pointed out, has been punished enough.
Baller explained that as a single mother, she took what jobs she could, working the swing shift at a local moulding mill. Leaving her job at 2:30 a.m on the morning of May 6, 2000, Baller said she picked up Christian, whom she called CJ, from the baby-sitter.
"We played for a while and I read to him and we fell asleep in the same bed. All the doors were locked and barricaded," she explained tearfully.
Claims that CJ had a history of being outside unattended were not true, Baller said. Twice before the child had gotten outside while his mother slept, but only twice. Once Melissa's 10-year old brother had forgotten to secure the sliding glass door and CJ got out, and the other time was when the youngster was able to open another door that had a broken lock. That door was fixed. Typically, a 2X4 board was used to secure the sliding glass door, and a heavy piece of countertop material was placed against the sliding door.
"No one knows how CJ got out," Hummel said. "The police thinks CJ moved the countertop, and it is conceivable there was foul play... we don't know."
Baller said she woke up and found the "house was very quiet. The bedroom door was partially open and CJ wasn't there. I ran outside where we were preparing for a yard sale and I thought he might be playing with the boxes and stuff."
She noticed the door to the kennel was open and the dog was missing. Neighbors said they had seen the boy playing with the dog at about 10 that morning. That was the last anyone saw of him.
Baller then called the police and told them her son was missing. That started the massive search effort. For days, searchers scoured the area, paying special attention to the banks of the nearby Crooked River. "CJ was scared of the water and wouldn't go near it," Baller said. "We think he followed the dog and ..."
She said that while the search continued, she was always searching nearby fields. "I couldn't sleep because I was afraid someone would drop him off and I wouldn't be there for him."
After three weeks of searching, the boy's body was found in the Crooked River, far downstream from the Baller home. Nearly seven months later, Williams took the case to a grand jury and the indictment was handed down.
The grand jury did not, Hummel explained, hear from the defense. "Under Oregon's grand jury procedure, a DA can get any kind of indictment he wants. Melissa Baller has a story to tell and she'll say it in court, loud and clear, that she is not a criminal. She tried her best in difficult circumstances and maybe made a mistake, but she is not a criminal."
The alleged crime is, under Oregon law, a misdemeanor punishable and if convicted, Baller could face up to a year in custody and a $5,000 fine. A six person jury is being impaneled to hear the case and for a conviction the jury's decision must be unanimous.