ABILENE, Texas - Closing arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday in the trial of an Abilene woman accused of murdering her newborn.
Both sides rested their cases before noon Wednesday during Day 3 of the trial of Amber Craker. They returned at 3 p.m. for charges to be read.
Craker, now 20, was 18 at the time she was accused of killing her newborn daughter, Ashley Cate, on Jan. 18, 2016.
On Wednesday, forensic DNA analyst Farrah Plopper said Craker’s DNA was found on the handle of the knife used to stab her newborn daughter.
Plopper also showed a pair of scissors to the jury found in evidence. She said Amber Craker's DNA was found on the handle but so was Damian Cate's.
Abilene police found the body of the deceased newborn inside Craker's home.
Also Wednesday, Abilene Police Detective Jeramy Montgomery gave emotional testimony about when the forensic team found the baby.
Montgomery said as soon as they only found placenta in the pipes they knew they had to check the trashcan.
“It kind of dawned on us the baby could be found in the trashcan,” Montgomery said choking back tears. “Baby Ashley was found with her umbilical cord still attached, covered in trash.”
The defense began their questioning by asking Montgomery who he believed was in the home at the time of the murder.
Montgomery named Craker’s boyfriend Damian Cate, Craker’s parents and Craker’s grandmother. Cate will also stand trial for his alleged role in the murder.
Montgomery testified to other evidence found at the scene. A flipped blood stained mattress and bloody sheets thrown in the washer.
Meanwhile, an Abilene Independent School District psychology specialist said she had assessed Craker twice at Cooper High School.
During October 2012, the specialist said Craker experienced emotional disability.
The specialist said Craker is able to follow rules and instruction and knows right from wrong.
During October 2015, the specialist said Craker showed vast improvement and was moved from emotional disability to learning disability. Craker, however, still required special education.
The specialist noted Craker’s relationship with Cate. She said if the relationship ended, Craker would need emotional support and psychiatric assistance.
Previous story, Andrew McMillan - KTXS:
The first hour of Amber Craker's second day on trial for the death of her newborn daughter saw Craker reverse her story multiple times in an interview with police and then provide insight into why she tried flushing the baby's corpse down the toilet.
The remainder of a three-hour interview that was recorded shortly after Craker was admitted to Hendrick Medical Center on Jan. 18, 2016 was played for jurors Tuesday morning.
Craker said she first knew she was having a baby when she felt intense pain, pushed, and felt the baby's head being birthed. She told detectives that she thought it was pain from a period, and that "nobody helped me but myself," but that would later be refuted in a second interview later that day.
Craker said in the first interview that Ashley Nevaeh Cate was "dead blue" and wasn't breathing when she was born. She said she stuck a finger in her mouth in an attempt to clear her airway, and she said she tried slapping the baby's bottom. She said neither worked.
An Abilene police detective asked her how she took care of the umbilical cord, and Craker said she cut it and tied both ends herself. She then admitted that she tried to flush the remains down the toilet and used a plunger to force material down the pipe.
The detective asked Craker why she tried to flush the remains.
Craker said she was scared her parents would find out if she went outside to give the girl a proper burial. In a second interview, a detective asked Craker if attempting to flush the baby down the toilet was a proper burial. Craker said, "No."
The interview then continues with the detective asking for Craker's consent to perform a DNA swab. She says she doesn't understand the consent at first, but then agrees.
Taylor County District Attorney James Hicks stopped the recording of the interview when it was about two-and-a-half hours in, and asked APD Detective Stacie Cisneros on the witness stand to present the DNA swab. After it was admitted as evidence, Hicks asked if Craker had mentioned the trash can where Ashley was found at this point in the interview. Cisneros said she hadn't.
The interview resumed, and Craker can be heard asking, "Will I go to prison?"
The detective says that's not for him to decide, and that he's just trying to gather facts. Craker says, "I should be punished."
"If I could go back, I would change everything," Craker said after expressing remorse for the situation.
The detectives ask Craker if she thinks Damien Scott Cate, her boyfriend, will be upset. She said she thinks he will hate her and that "he will probably be very disappointed." We then learned that Damien took the sheets off the bed where Craker gave birth to Ashley.
The first interview concluded, and Hicks began playing the second interview, which was recorded with Craker about six minutes after the first interview on Jan. 18.
At this point, however, police had interviewed Cate, and they let Craker know that parts of her story didn't match up with what Cate said. Police also said Cate knew the sex of the baby.
In the second interview, Abilene police said Cate admitted to holding the baby for 20-30 minutes, conflicting with Craker's account that no one else ever saw the baby.
When police told Craker that Cate said he tried to help with the baby, Craker said, "That doesn't sound like Damien." She would repeat that multiple times over the next few minutes.
She also said, "He has a tendency to lie."
But the detectives said Cate was being honest with them and that they had no reason to disbelieve him.
"I think he was there and he was trying to help you," the detective says.
Craker says the only thing she remembers is fading in and out of consciousness. "Only thing I remember was me flushing it down the toilet," she says.
The detectives say Damien saw the trail of blood and got Craker's parents, and they asked Craker about all of the noise that is typical of giving birth.
That's when Craker's story started to change, and she admitted that Damien may have helped deliver the baby. She said she saw him holding something, and admitted it could have possibly been a baby.
"I'm not saying you didn't pass out, but I think you remember more details than you're telling us about," the detective tells Craker in the hospital.
He asks Craker why she lied about Damien's role.
"I was trying to protect him," Craker said.
The recording of the second interview concluded and Judge James Eidson released jurors for a morning break.
At about 9 p.m. on Jan. 18, APD detectives returned to Amber Craker's hospital room for a third interview to discuss details after Ashley's body was found in the bathroom trash can.
A detective told Craker "You will never have a conversation as important as the one we're having right now."
"The baby was never gonna fit down the toilet," a detective said before asking Craker what she did with Ashley's body.
That's when detectives showed Craker the pictures of Ashley's body that were taken from the crime scene and asked her to describe what she saw. The same pictures were shown Monday in court and prompted tears from Craker. During this interview, her emotions escalated.
"My baby is seriously hurt and I didn't mean to hurt it or kill it," Craker said in the interview. "I did not mean to hurt my child."
She told detectives that she felt something dangling below her after giving birth and started cutting without looking. She repeated more than a dozen times that cutting the baby girl's body was "a freak accident" that happened because her hands were wet when she thought she was cutting an umbilical cord. However, detectives would soon learn that was a fabricated story.
Through hysterical cries, Craker repeats that she didn't mean to kill her child and that she lied to detectives earlier in the day because she was scared. Detectives asked what she was scared of, and she said "everyone hating me."
Detectives prodded her for additional information about how she cut the baby and how her father reportedly cleaned the bathtub after Craker washed blood off. She said her parents had no idea she had put the baby in the trash can.
But the first half of the interview was made moot when detectives said they didn't believe her story and she broke down into a confession. In the recording, Craker says she cut the baby in the bathroom, and apparently made a motion and told detectives, "It was like that."
"I'm so sorry, I'm such a bad mother, I don't care if I live or die tonight," Craker said while weeping. She then told detectives that if she was at home, she probably would've slit her throat. She brought up suicide multiple times throughout the interview and said she had a history of depression.
Later, one of the detectives asked Craker to admit how long she knew she was pregnant. Through questioning, she acknowledged that she knew she was pregnant for nine months and didn't have a plan to raise the child. She later said her plan was to place Ashley with another family.
The detective then dictated a motive at Craker, asking if her first thought was to slice the baby's throat to "shut her up" and make the issue "go away." She said, "Yes, sir." The detective asked if she would say this is murder, and she said yes.
Craker then asks the detective not to show her any more pictures of the crime scene or her baby. The pictures are put away, but the detective says, "I can't get that out of my head."
One of the detectives asks Craker if Ashley was alive when she gave bith, and Craker said she wasn't moving or breathing. She reiterated what she had said earlier that she spanked Ashley multiple times to see if she would cry. She later said she didn't know if the baby was alive or dead.
The detective asked her why she cut the baby's throat. Craker said she thought she was already dead and said, "So I did what I did." The detective said it was the most outlandish thing he had heard and questioned Craker's remorse. Craker said, "I apologize ... I don't care if you put me in prison or not, I deserve it."
The interview concluded with Craker saying she was depressed and mad at herself. "I killed my own damn child," Craker said before crying again.
The recording finished after about an hour, and with APD Detective Stacie Cisneros still on the stand, Judge James Eidson released the jurors for a lunch break.
Keith took over asking questions of Cisneros after the break, and he asked if Cisneros was aware that Craker may be suffering from hemmorhagic shock and was administered morphine. Cisneros said he wasn't aware of that when questioning Craker.
Craker's defense told Cisneros that Craker only said Ashley was "trying to breathe" after it was first mentioned by a detective. Keith then asked if Amber implicated anyone else, and Cisneros said she didn't. He said that it would take a certain "heads in the sand" situation, but that he could see Amber being the only person in the room when Ashley was killed.
Keith also asked about the motion that Craker made when describing cutting the baby, saying it was more of a slash than a stabbing motion. Cisneros said that could've been because she was trying to minimize the incident.
That's when Keith introduced two pieces of evidence for the defense: Cate's murder indictment and the letter setting his trial for Oct. 9.
But Cisneros said he didn't work the part of the investigation that led to Cate's arrest, and couldn't provide information on why he was charged too.
Keith then asked if Cisneros had ever interviewed a subject and used false or leading information to get an admission of new information, and Cisneros said that doesn't come into play in his investigations.
Hicks took over on questioning and rhetorically asked Cisneros if he was aware that Craker had talked to school officials about her pregnancy even though she told police she didn't know she was pregnant. Hicks said Craker only changed her attitude during the interview when the picture of Ashley's body on the tarp was shown to her, and that her response was that she "knew [she'd] get caught sooner or later."
After Cisneros stepped down, Hicks called an APD officer who had a notorized document signed by Craker relinquishing her rights to make the final arrangements and burial for Ashley's body. Ashley was buried during a ceremony organized by police in February of 2016.
Keith asked the officer if he recalled seeing Ashley's body wrapped in cloth, and he said she wasn't in a cloth. But then he was asked about a narrative he wrote in 2016 which says the baby was wrapped in cloth and had been slashed.
A deputy medical examiner from Tarrant County took the stand Tuesday afternoon and Hicks went through questions about the procedure of examining Ashley Cate's body.
Pictures of each stage of the medical exam were shown to the jury, with heavy emphasis on the wounds Ashley received. A glaring image of the stab wounds across her neck drew grimaces and sniffles from several jurors.
We learned through the medical examiner's testimony that Ashley had suffered multiple stab wounds, including several that went all the way through her chest with exit wounds on her back. Ashley's left carotid artery and jugular vein were severed, her trachia was cut in two, and her left lung was punctured by an object. Her first rib in the front was sliced, and the second, third, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth ribs in her back were cut. She also had abrasions behind her ear and along the side of her neck. Her umbilical cord was also left "somewhat ragged," and wasn't tied at the end, refuting Craker's statement to police.
Image after image showed the damage to Ashley's body, clearly visible after the blood was cleaned. Hicks asked if the medical examiner could determine what kind of blade was used, and she said there was evidence of serration.
Hicks then displayed the knife that was found in Craker's bedroom and asked if that could have been used to stab Ashley. The medical examiner said it could have been.
Hicks brought up the mantra that Craker had repeated during the third interview with police, calling the incident "a freak accident." He asked the medical examiner her opinion on if it was an accident.
"This has to be deliberate motions," she said.
The rest of Ashley's body was shown, and Hicks asked if she was blue as Craker described.
The medical examiner said the baby didn't have any blue tones other than pooling of blood after death.
The medical examiner also described the stool that was found on Ashley's body, describing it as normal, and said that she had signs of full gestation. She put Ashley's age at about 39-40 weeks when born.
But ultimately, throughout more than an hour of testimony, the medical examiner couldn't determine if Ashley was alive or dead when born, and the cause of her death was undetermined.
Keith seized on that and asked about a critical case review of the autopsy. The medical examiner explained that the critical case review is a normal procedure that happens twice a month, and four other physicians went over the autopsy to review all of the details.
Keith asked if all five agreed the cause of Ashley's death was undetermined, and the medical examiner said yes. Hicks asked if she's worked homicide cases where the cause and manner of death were undetermined, and she said she had, adding that some had gone to trial.
The last person to testify Tuesday was a Cooper High School special education teacher who worked with Craker for her freshman and senior years of high school. She said she heard rumors that Craker was pregnant and noticed she had gained weight. When the teacher asked Craker about the pregnancy, Craker denied it at first but then acknowledged the pregnancy after the weekend.
The teacher said she discussed parenting programs and options with Craker, including adoption. She said she was also aware of her relationship with Cate, and that she was comfortable talking about the pregnancy. She said she was getting medical care through a doctor in Coleman, though she told the teacher her due date was June 18.
Testimony will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
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