St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri on October 20, 1991 · Page 21
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St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri · Page 21

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Sunday, October 20, 1991
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ill i 111 i-"r i"i r n '"' " I irrii i t' 'n " w m u i l. i i i uhilu i ai imnyi mi-im mm-wi 1" 1 9 m m mm m n wt i SI LOUIS POST-DISPATCH SECTION SUNDAY, OCTOBER 20, 1991 NOT GUI. Y How the system failed Patricia Stallings By Bill Smith Of th Post-Dispatch Staff 61991, St Louli Pott-Diipatch ON THE MORNING of Jan. 31, 1991, Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney George B. McElroy III, a handsome Texan with silvering bair, stood In a small second-floor courtroom In Hlllsboro and spoke eloquently of a baby's murder, a mauler's guilt and a community's cry for Justice. Don't speculate that 5-month-old Ryan Stallings died of natural causes, McElroy told the Jury. "You might as well speculate that some little man from Mars came down and shot him full of some mysterious bacteria." Don't try to understand why Patricia Stallings poisoned her child by feeding htm from a baby bottle laced with antifreeze, he told them. "The point is she did It. Only she couldVe done it," he said. "Only she would've done It" It would be more than 10 hours before Jury foreman Delmar Fisher would stand and tell the court that the Jury had found Stallings guilty of first-degree murder. It would be more than a month before Circuit Judge Gary P. Kramer would sentence her to life in prison without parole, as friends and family members wore T-shirts pleading, "Please help us; Patricia Stallings is Innocent" And It would be more than eight months before McElroy finally would come before a crowd of reporters In downtown St Louis to tell them that there had been a terrible mistake. Stallings, he said, did not murder her son after all. He had been wrong, McElroy said. The jury had been wrong. All of the experts, he said, were wrong. Still, a month after murder charges were dropped against Stallings, the man who performed the autopsy on Ryan Stallings has steadfastly refused to change the child's death certificate. Dr. Phillip Burch, St Louis' deputy chief medical examiner, insists Ryan was poisoned. But McElroy says he has no question about Patricia Stallings' innocence. "It's difficult at any time to step up and say a mistake has been made," he said, "but my gosh, there's a time when it just has to be done." Systemic Collapse "This," says St Louis lawyer Robert F. Rltter, "is an incredible story." "This Is not a situation where a crime was committed and the wrong person was accused and convicted," Rltter said. "It's a situation where there never was a crime In the first place." Rltter is representing the Stallings family in a medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit against Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, St Louis University Hospital, SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories and several physicians who played key roles In the Stallings case. "I don't like to classify people as bad guys or good guys," Ritter said. "This is a situation where mistakes allegedly were made, and they were compounded and reinforced. And, In my opinion, that led to a collapse in our medical system and in our legal system which Is unprecedented In my experience." Prosecutor McElroy, who had been In office Just one month when the Stallings case came to trial, says It will be impossible to make up for what happened to Patricia Stallings. "As sad as it Is that she has had to suffer what she has, I think the final outcome shows a real strength in our system of Justice," McElroy said. "Everything Was Perfect" The white frame house where Patricia and David Stallings live, and where they were living during the summer of 1989, is just off South Lake Drive north of downtown Hillsboro. The back of the house overlooks Lake Wauwanoka, a large, private lake surrounded by a variety of both modest and more expensive homes. A ' i , 'VY ') r -fy Ryan Stallings as seen in a family snapshot. He was 5 months old when he died on Sept 7, 1989. large American flag flies from one side of the house; the Stallings name Is on the mailbox on the street. Patricia, David and Ryan had moved into the white house from St. Louis a little over a month before Ryan was first hospitalized. "He had my hair and David's face," Patricia Stallings said of her baby. "He had dimples and big blue eyes. "That truly was the happiest time of my life. Everything was perfect everything. A new house, a new baby. I mean, what could be wrong?" On the night of July 7, 1989, a Friday, Stallings said she gave Ryan his evening bottle before putting him to bed. The child Immediately threw It up. On Saturday, she said, the baby seemed to be feeling better. Stallings went swimming at her sister's house and left Ryan with her husband. By Sunday morning, though, she said, Ryan's condition had begun to deteriorate. He was lethargic, could not keep his food down and he was breathing hard, she said. She made arrangements to meet a doctor at the emergency room of Children's Hospital. But Stallings said she got lost, and Instead of going to Children's Hospital she drove to Cardinal Glennon Hospital. On July 12, after a series of tests that purportedly showed high levels of ethylene glycol in Ryan's blood, pediatrician Dr. Robert Lynch signed an affidavit saying he believed the child might have been poisoned. The case was referred to the Missouri Division of Family Services, which placed Ryan in protective custody almost immediately. Ryan was discharged on July 17 and placed In a foster home. "It happened real fast" Patricia Stallings said. "I kept thinking this would get straightened out I thought somebody would figure this out; they'd say 'oops,' and we'd all go home." On Sept. 4, four days after a brief visit with his mother, Ryan was hospitalized a second time. The next day, Stallings, who authorities said had poisoned her son during the visit was arrested at her home, handcuffed and taken away in a police car as her husband followed behind. She would spend the next seven months in jail. It was shortly after her arrest that Stallings learned that her son had died. "I don't think I believed it," she said. "I Just went around that entire day, saying, 'no, no, no ... I had just seen him; I had just spent the night with him. I was mad at everybody. The whole thing was just so absurd." Although she didn't know It at the time of her arrest, Stallings was pregnant with the couple's second child. It would be that child who ultimately would be the key to finally freeing Stallings. Unshakeable Evidence Even before McElroy took over the Jefferson County prosecutor's office in January 1990, he said, he began to immerse himself in the Stallings case. Once he took office, he said, he interviewed all of the witnesses himself; he talked to all of the experts and reviewed all of their findings. He said he particularly was troubled by press reports and suggestions from Stallings' attorney at that time, Eric Rathbone, that Ryan might have died of an extremely rare genetic disorder called methylmalonic acidemia, or MMA. It had been the birth of the Stallingses' second son, David Jr., that focused attention on the possibility that MMA may have played a part In Ryan's death. MMA, which affects one out of every 48,000 children, causes a buildup of dangerous acids within a child's body. When Children's Hospital diagnosed David Jr. with the disease, experts said there was a one In four chance that Ryan too had suffered from the rare genetic disorder. "I had heard enough to be concerned," McElroy said. Two major pieces of medical evidence, though, seemed unshakeable, McElroy said, and convinced him that Ryan had been murdered. The first was the finding of ethylene glycol in Ryan's body by both the SmithKline laboratory and a toxicology laboratory at St Louis University. Even If Ryan suffered ! I r-Tr . y !;'X-;Y . i t s. " ' ' Y I ' - . ? " - , v- - x - tit -v .t - iT Y. ltr- SI iVUV Karen ElshoutPost-Dlspatch ABOVE: Patricia and Stallings. David Wendi BrownPost-Dispatch . David Stallings Jr., 20 months old, enjoying play time with his i parents at their home in Hillsboro. from MMA, the disease would not account for the levels of ethylene glycol (the active ingredient in antifreeze) found In the boy's blood. Rathbone, McElroy said, had had more than nine months to find an expert to explain the finding of ethylene glycol In the boy's body and had been unable to do it A bottle of antifreeze bad been found In the Stallingses' basement. - The second overwhelming piece of medical evidence, he said, was the autopsy's finding of a material that appeared to be calcium oxylate crystals In the child's brain and other body organs. Medical experts had told McElroy that the crystals were consistent with ethylene glycol poisoning. On top of all that he said, were findings that traces of ethylene glycol were found In the bottle that Patricia Stallings had used to feed Ryan shortly before he was admitted to the hospital the second, and final, time. No Expert Witnesses It seemed from the beginning that the key to Stallings' defense was to somehow show that Ryan's death might have been caused by MMA and that he was not poisoned at all, much less by his mother. Rathbone, who said he bad agreed to take Stallings' case as a favor to the family and because "it seemed nobody else would take it," said he hoped to prove that the Infant had died of an tn-born metabolic disorder. "The problem is that there was no one who would back me up on It," Rathbone said. Rathbone said he did extensive reading on the subject and even spoke to a nationally known expert on metabolic diseases. That expert, Rathbone said, told him there was no way that any metabolic byproducts of MMA could be mistaken for ethylene glycol In lab tests. Rathbone, who said he has a degree In biochemistry, said he also looked at the test results of SmithKline and St. Louis University and determined that there was no reason for him to question their findings. "I went back to my old textbooks to make sure," Rathbone said. By the opening day of the trial, Rathbone had subpoenaed no expert witnesses to testify for Stallings. He said he believed that none was available. Rathbone also did not take depositions of any of the state's expert medical witnesses; he said after the trial that he had no reason not to trust their findings. Still, Rathbone said be had hoped to Introduce evidence at the trial that Ryan's brother, David Jr., suffered from MMA and, as a result there was a one in four chance that Ryan too had suffered from the disease. But the evidence, which seemed key to Stallings' defense, never got to the Jury. At one point early in the trial, Judge Kramer told Rathbone: "You have to prepare and subpoena the evidence necessary to prove your theory to the case. That's not my responsibility." ; y. Six months after the trial, ' ' Prosecutor McElroy acknowledged in a motion filed with the court that Rathbone's defense had been ineffective; Kramer agreed to grant a new trial. "That Is very unusual," Kramer said of McElroy's acknowledgement of Ineffective counsel. "It's the only time I've ever known It to happen." Rathbone said he Is convinced he did the best Job he could under the circumstances. "I thought I had to have a witness See STALLINGS, Page 13 Kit K3c JERRY BERGER The Search Is On For Veiled Prophet To Replace Knight BAGATELLE: The two-year term of Emerson Elec-trlc's Charles F. Knight as Veiled Prophet expires in December, and members of the order are gearing up for a successor. So far, the names Sage Wlghtman and John Mackey are being bandied about . . . While St Louis County has already appointed members of the St Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, the city has yet to be heard from for its five choices. Meanwhile, the bureau is being run without a full com-mlsh, and that's making more than a few nervous On Wednesdays only, beginning this week, Wehren-berg Theatres will reduce the admission price to $2.95 from the usual $3.50 in the afternoon and $5.50 in the evening. "The audience has been absent lately," observed tubthumper Ralph Graczak Jr., "and we're assuming the recession has affected more people than one might believe." (What next Ralph? Dish giveaways on Tuesday nights as in the days of the Depression? How about raffling off a baby, as the late Fred Wehrenberg did at the old Virginia Theatre? Of course, it was a baby pig, and I don't think it would work today.) THE LEGAL BEAT: A group of lawyers once associated with the late, beleaguered law firm of Mazur-Raben who then joined Guilfoil Petzall & Shoemake are making an exodus to bow their own shop in Clayton. They are David Jones, Paul Simon, Rich Petrof sky, David Nelers and Mike Musich. David Helfry remains in a holding pattern as to his plans Shulamlth Simon clocked in Friday at the law firm of Rosenblum Goldenhersh Silversteln & Zafft . . . What? You don't read the Missouri Law Review, published by the University of Missouri School of Law? Well, tne summer hi issue, which featured an extensive article on "Bankruptcy, Contracts and Utilitarianism," Just may become a collector's item. The author? None other than the now-renowned Anita F. Hill, professor of law at the University of Oklahoma. nNY Anita Hill ROOTS: The DeMenil Mansion Is preparing to fete a far-flung "relative," Helene Mudry of Gerbe- pal, France, at 10 a.m. next Saturday. It seems she looked up her family tree and found that her great-great-great-grandmother Jeanne Nicolas had waved goodbye to her brother Nicolas Nicolas (the name is for real) as he left for America. As Mudry pointed out In a letter, it was "in fashion to be a royalist" so when he arrived here, Nicolas Nicolas grandly added De Menil, the name of a town in the Moselle Valley, to his name. Eventually, he struck it rich In St Louis and bought Eugene Miltenberger's beautiful Greek Revival house overlooking the Mississippi River. Mudry wrote St Louis' silly hall to ask if there were any DeMenlls around. A sharp-eyed staffer sent the letter to the mansion. Retired Maryville College professor Marian DeMenil, Nicholas' great-granddaughter, who lived in the house as a small child, has been Invited to the party to meet her cousin Helene. MONEY-YIELDING INSTRUMENT: Consumer Capital's George Moll and Gilbert Kopolow are expected to launch the sale of zero-coupon, deep-discount bonds issued by Mellon Bank of Pittsburgh through brokers before Dec. 31. Moll, a CPA who once served Diversified Industries, and Kopolow, an entrepreneur, have already signed a contract with the bank. They had an arrangement with Citicorp two years ago, but the bank changed its strategic plan, according to a source close to Consumer Capital. MOREOVER: Popular floral designer Jon Prel is expanding his repertoire with the opening of his Jon Prel Cuisine: The Fine Art of Entertaining. Joining Prel is Tobias Shapiro (Karen Foss' son-in-law), who will offer catering for small, refined cocktail buffets and sedate dinner parties. Prel's CWE floral shop will remain open. MEDICAL UPBEAT: Funded by the Heart, Lung & Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, the "Trials of Hypertension Prevention" program in the University Club Tower is seeking 100 more volunteers. Heading the program is Dr. Jerome D. Cohen, professor of medicine at St Louis University School of Medicine, who described the work as "changing the lifestyle approach without drugs to prevent high blood pressure." Cohen hailed, "They want us to Increase enrollment It's like the old iron lung days before a vaccine was found for polio. We want to prevent hypertension." The program calls for volunteers who do not have high blood pressure. Blood pressure is checked over three visits, and then the program begins free of charge. For more info, call 726-3458. FACES IN PLACES: Bruce Patton popped the question to fellow tennis aficionado Sally Neale last Saturday night at Dierdorf and Hart's (he's with Frank Patton Interiors; she's with the St Louis Development Corp.). No date for the nupts has been set. ... That was John Toner, GM of the Rltz-Carlton Rancho Mirage (formerly with the St Louis Rltz), lunching with Bill Marltz t'other day at (where else?) the Rltz Restaurant F.Y.I.: The Alton Belle Casino will adjust its schedule Oct 31 to offer a four-hour Four Kings Cruise (boarding at 5:30 p.m.), because the city of Alton will be holding its 75th Halloween parade that day. According to the Belle's bell-ringer, John Relchert, the parade shuts down Alton, and if you're not In town while the parade's in progress, forget driving there. A special permit will allow half-hour dockside gambling 5:30-6 p.m., 9-9:30 p.m.

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