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Old 03-28-2006, 07:27 PM   #2
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So went Monday’s testimony of the child’s mother, Macalia Blackburn, who is charged as an accessory to second-degree murder for her role in the girl’s death on July 2, 2004.
The father, Andrew John Yellowbear Jr., is charged with premeditated first-degree murder, as well as a lesser charge of accessory to murder. If convicted of the more-severe charge, he could be put to death.
According to Blackburn, Yellowbear’s premeditated malice was revealed when he once told the child, who could only speak “baby talk,” shortly before her death, “I can’t wait until you die.”
Star witness
Yellowbear’s trial is under way in Hot Springs County District Court in Thermopolis. This is despite an opinion Friday by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribal Court that the state has no jurisdiction over Yellowbear because he is an Arapaho tribal member.
Judge David Park of Casper is overseeing the trial.
Blackburn, 24, the state’s soft-spoken star witness, appeared before the all-white jury following lunch.
Clad in an orange jail jumpsuit, she starkly contrasted the stone-faced Yellowbear, who sat between his two lawyers, wearing glasses, a striped dress shirt and bolo tie.
Yellowbear, 31, looked directly at Blackburn during the duration of her four-hour testimony, occasionally glancing down to take notes. He showed no emotion, even when gruesome photos of his daughter taken by investigators immediately following her death were shown on a projection screen.
Blackburn, on the other hand, began crying when the photos were shown, although she made it through her testimony without breaking down.
In the photo stills, the girl’s thin body revealed evidence of brutal trauma, including bruises and cuts on her face and neck, a puncture wound piercing the skin on her chin all the way through to her tongue, scabs on her chest and spine, a broken arm wrapped in a gauze bandage, lacerations to her torso and legs, blistered burns to a foot and her right hand, and wounds on her buttocks that appeared to have been caused by repeated beatings — wounds so severe that it looked as if chunks of flesh had been torn from the area.
Blaming each other
Yellowbear blames Blackburn for the abuse that led to their daughter’s death. His lawyers are expected to make such an argument during their cross-examination of Blackburn Tuesday and, possibly, in the days to follow.
Although Blackburn admitted to once pinching her daughter with her thumb and forefinger and once slapping her across the face, causing a wound that “went away,” she said Yellowbear performed the vast majority of the abuse, which took place between May 15, when the couple received the child from family members who were unable to care for her any longer, until July 2, 2004, the date the dying child was transported to Riverton Memorial Hospital’s emergency room by Blackburn at around 11 p.m.
It became immediately evident to hospital personnel that the child had been abused, contrary to the story initially told by Blackburn, allegedly under Yellowbear’s orders, that “she fell down some stairs.”
Riverton Police arrested Blackburn shortly thereafter.
Initially, Blackburn told officers she, alone, committed the abuse, but later she pointed the finger at Yellowbear, saying she protected him out of fear.
Tale of trauma
“It began with him (Yellowbear) asking her (the child) to stand in front of the TV for long hours — from the time she woke up to the time she went to sleep ... 8 to 9 in the morning to 9 to 10 at night,” Blackburn told Assistant Fremont County Attorney Tim Gist of the origin of Yellowbear’s alleged abuse.
“Would she do that?” Gist asked.
“She had no other choice,” Blackburn responded. “She’d get in trouble.”
Gist: “By trouble, do you mean Andrew would hit her?”
Blackburn: “Andrew would hit her knees with an object — a claw hammer — the handle.”
Gist: “Did that make her do what he wanted her to do?”
Blackburn: “Yes.”
Gist: “How frequently did the defendant make her stand in front of the TV for hours at a time?”
Blackburn: “Every day.”
Blackburn went on to say that Yellowbear would spank the child’s bare bottom with a “blue, plastic piece of swing” and other objects, two or three times a day.
The results, she said, were “round, open-sore type things.”
Immediately after Blackburn made that statement, Yellowbear, with a stern expression on his face, shook his head and, after a lawyer whispered in his ear, made a “two” gesture with the forefinger and middle finger of his right hand.
The “piece of swing” or “stabilizer bar,” as Gist called it, is expected to be a key piece of evidence against Yellowbear, as, in opening arguments, the prosecution said it is covered with his fingerprints.
Mother’s fear
Blackburn also said that she witnessed Yellowbear burning their daughter with a cigarette lighter, apparently to make her respond after she slipped into unconsciousness one day about a week before her death.
“I’ve seen him hold a lighter up to her foot,” she said. “He had her wrapped in a blanket — she wasn’t conscious, she wasn’t alert — and he took her to the bathroom. That’s when he took the lighter and put it up to her foot.”
“Holding the lighter to her foot didn’t bring her around?” Gist asked.
“No,” Blackburn responded.
Gist then asked Blackburn why she didn’t take the girl to the hospital at that time.
“He wouldn’t let me,” she said.
Blackburn repeatedly said she feared the man, who was once incarcerated for punching her in the stomach while she was pregnant with twins in 2003.
(The two have had four children together, including one child born while Blackburn was incarcerated following her child’s death.)
Blackburn added that until their daughter died she loved Yellowbear.
Next, observing a picture of the deceased child’s upper back torso, Gist asked Blackburn, “Her hair looks thin to me — was she losing her hair?”
“Andrew was pulling it out,” Blackburn responded.
“By carrying her around by her hair.”
No more pain
Despite her frail state, the girl, according to her mother, was functional until late in the evening on the day she died, the same day the family — Yellowbear, Blackburn and their three children — went to a sacred tribal sun dance site in Ethete to set up a camp.
Sun dancers deprive themselves of rest, food and drink for three days in order to purify their bodies and seek spiritual guidance. It is not clear whether Yellowbear was planning to participate in the event.
While at the campsite, Yellowbear took his daughter out of the car and placed her on the hood. A cousin of Yellowbear’s later walked by and talked to him, but Marcela was sitting in the car at that time with Blackburn and the other children.
No other people were nearby, according to Blackburn.
The family later went back to Riverton, where Blackburn made plans to meet her grandmother (who was responsible for giving the girl back to Blackburn, even though at one point she had been deprived of custody by the tribe) at the Arapaho casino to gamble and then follow her to her home at Arapahoe to borrow some pots and pans in order to cook food for the upcoming sun dance.
Blackburn left at 8 p.m., and arrived back home at 9 p.m. because “Andrew said I could only be gone one hour.”
“Where was Marcela (when you returned)?” Gist asked.
“She was in the living room on the floor,” Blackburn said.
“She was sitting on her knees watching TV. When I opened the door, he was hitting her on top of the head with his knuckles.”
Gist: “How was she acting?”
Blackburn: “She was just sitting there.”
Gist: “Did she make any noise when he was striking her?”
Blackburn: “No.”
Blackburn said at this point Yellowbear left to visit his aunt in a nearby apartment. (Several Blackburn and Yellowbear family members resided in adjacent apartments in the complex on Forest Drive at the time of the girl’s death, according to Blackburn.)
While Yellowbear was gone, Blackburn said she noticed the girl “wouldn’t stand,” which, she thought, meant “her legs were asleep.”
So, allegedly to take pressure off her legs, Blackburn placed a pink strap through the front two belt loops of the child’s bib overalls, tied it to each of the two overall straps and hung her by the straps on a closet rod 64 inches off the ground.
Yellowbear claims this is why the child died, but prosecutors point out that the straps were not around her neck.
Yellowbear arrived back at the couple’s Forest Drive apartment about 30 minutes later, appearing “anxious,” according to Blackburn.
“He wanted to get out of there,” she said.
He then went to see the girl in the closet, who, Blackburn said, now hanging with her head slumped forward into her chest.
Blackburn estimated the girl hung in the closet for about 15 minutes, during which Blackburn played solitaire on the kitchen table.
Yellowbear allegedly stood silent and motionless, staring at the girl.
Blackburn said she then removed her from the rod and performed CPR unsuccessfully.
Yellowbear, she said, made no effort to resuscitate the girl or transport her to the hospital.
In their cross-examination of Blackburn Tuesday, Yellowbear’s attorneys hoped to show the jury Blackburn’s first taped interrogation, in which she took the blame for the crime (see related story).
They say since she admitted to participating in some of the abuse, details revealed in first interview could shed some insight into the case.
If Blackburn is found to be lying under oath, her accessory to murder plea bargain becomes moot and she can be tried for felony murder — the maximum punishment for which is death.
The punishment range for accessory to second-degree murder is 20 years to life in prison.
Editor’s note: The Ranger will now refer to the child’s name as “Marcela” rather than “Marcella,” as in previous reports, which were based on court documents. The Blackburn family spells the child’s name with one L.
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