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5/21/05 Firefighters testify about baby death

BILL BRAUN World Staff Writer
Tulsa World (Final Home Edition),
Page A13 of News

The burning death of 8-month-old Christian Marten had a profound impact on veteran firefighters who saw the aftermath of the boy's fatal encounter with a floor furnace in his Tulsa home. And Tulsa County jurors who are hearing the murder trial of the infant's mother have now seen photographic documentation of the boy's grim fate. Testimony began Friday in the second-degree murder trial of Jeannie Henderson, 20, linked to her son's death. A jury selection process that spanned three days concluded Thursday. In addition to the murder count, Henderson is on trial on two other felonies -- child neglect and possession of methamphetamine in the presence of children younger than 12. She also faces a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. Prosecutors maintain that Christian burned -- while his 3-year-old sister Katelyn watched -- when his walker got stuck on a floor furnace grate Dec. 14, 2003, at a residence at 1933 S. Indianapolis Ave. "His little body cooked to death," District Attorney Tim Harris told jurors during an opening statement. Henderson had been on a "meth binge" and was asleep with Katelyn on a couch, five feet from the furnace, Harris said. "She never heard her child whimper; she never heard her child cry." Defense lawyer Patrick Adams called the death "a tragic accident." Henderson made some "bad choices" that weekend, but police and emergency personnel jumped to conclusions, he said. "If you learn anything at this trial, you will learn that Jeannie Henderson is not a murderer," Adams told the 14-person jury, which includes two alternates. Christian's father, Jerry Lee Marten, 24, will be tried separately later. He faces the same counts. The murder charge alleges that the defendants engaged in imminently dangerous conduct and showed disregard for human life, "although without any premeditated design" to cause death. Keith Beck, a seven-year Tulsa firefighter, went to the residence in response to an emergency call regarding the child. "This is one of the worst things I've ever seen," he testified. Beck indicated that while another firefighter, Butch Dellis, was working on the severely burned boy, "the little girl asked me to fix her brother, because he's broken." While the "very, very scared" sister pleaded for him to "fix Bubba," the burned child's mother was crying and "very upset," Beck testified. The boy's father did not appear upset, he said. Dellis, who has been with the Fire Department for almost six years, said the motionless infant "very obviously" had severe second-degree and third-degree burns of varying colors. "The skin looked like it had been opened or peeled back," Dellis said. The baby's head was warm to his touch, but the infant wasn't breathing and had no pulse, and efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, he said. Dellis said he asked Henderson what happened and that she replied, "I don't know what happened. I found him this way." Christian was pronounced dead at the scene. "It is something I'll never forget," said Dellis, who indicated that the experience prompted him to call his own family. Before the start of testimony, prosecutors showed jurors two pictures of Christian -- with some graphic burns visible -- by projecting them onto a screen in District Judge Tom Thornbrugh's courtroom. Marten has told police that he was sleeping in a bedroom at the house and was awakened by Henderson, who was screaming, "My baby! My baby!" according to testimony at a 2004 hearing. Both defendants are in the Tulsa Jail.

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