LARGO — Less than an hour after 29-year-old Laura Taft was stabbed to death in her Clearwater apartment last year, her estranged boyfriend, Craig Wall, called his mother and told her he did it, authorities said.
At his first pretrial hearing, Wall told the judge he did it.
And in an exclusive jailhouse interview this week with the St. Petersburg Times, Wall again professed his guilt.
But Wall, who has been jailed since Taft's death on Feb. 17, 2010, insists he is not responsible for the other death he's charged with: that of their infant son, who died 11 days before Taft. Wall is facing first-degree murder charges for both deaths.
To bolster his claim, Wall, 36, points to a report by a neuropathologist that says the brain injury that led to the baby's death happened a week before he was hospitalized.
Craig Wall Jr. died Feb. 6, 2010, a day after he was rushed to the hospital with brain swelling and fractured ribs. It was Wall, caring for the 5-week-old baby alone at home, who called 911.
In a report dated April 1, 2010, a board-certified neuropathologist from the District 10 Medical Examiner's Office in Winter Haven said his examination of the baby's brain showed the injury happened about a week before he was hospitalized on Feb. 5.
"The subdural hematoma described is not recent and demonstrated microscopic evidence of organization. Based upon its microscopic appearance, I would estimate its age to be, perhaps, about a week old," reads the report by Dr. Stephen J. Nelson. "Clearly, this organizing subdural hematoma is older than the single one-day hospitalization the child endured."
Nelson, who finished his report more than a month after Wall was indicted, said this week that he was able to determine the injury predated the hospitalization by examining cells that move to the area where the brain is bleeding and try to surround it and "resorb it" after a traumatic brain injury.
It's the characteristics of those cells — for instance their thickness — that helped him estimate when the injury occurred. Nelson's findings are now attached to the report of the baby's autopsy by the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office.
Wall argues that the fact that the brain injury happened several days before the baby was hospitalized means any number of people could be responsible for his death.
"I don't know what happened to him. I wasn't there," Wall said this week.
But prosecutors, who have filed an intent to seek the death penalty, say the report doesn't change their position that Wall caused the injury that ultimately ended the child's life.
"So there may have been more than one incident of injury, but based on the statement of how the child was presenting prior to that day by witnesses who had seen the child, and based on Wall's statements as well, it's not going to change the theory of the prosecution," said Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorney Kendall Davidson, one of two prosecutors assigned to the case.
Before she was killed, Taft told detectives she hadn't noticed anything unusual about the baby's health in the days leading up to his death. But she said Wall had told her of two instances when the baby had vomited during that time frame.
Wall told detectives the baby threw up several times after he was circumcised on Feb. 3, two days before he went into cardiac arrest. Vomiting can signal the early stages of brain trauma.
The baby also had fractured ribs. Wall told investigators he didn't know how to perform CPR on infants and squeezed the baby's torso while trying to resuscitate him. He says it's possible the fractures happened then.
Wall says he was so despondent after his son's death that he wanted to die. He left a video message for Taft on a digital camera, part of which was paraphrased in a search warrant as "he was sorry that he did something to the baby and that he did not mean to make the baby cry."
That portion of the video was redacted before it was released to the Times. But in other portions, Wall repeatedly says he "didn't do it."
At the time, Clearwater police said they did not feel the statement about being "sorry" amounted to a confession. Nor was it, Wall said.
"He's my son. Obviously, if he's in my care I'm going to feel responsible," he said.
The statement, Wall said, "was taken out of context."
Wall said it should be clear he had nothing to hide regarding his son's death, because he called 911 and made himself available to investigators.
"You don't think if I did something I wouldn't have taken off?" he said. "Why did I stay?"
Eleven days after the infant died, Taft was found dead on her doorstep. Police said Wall kicked in her sliding glass door and stabbed her in the chest. Witnesses said they saw Wall fleeing the scene.
A few hours later, deputies in Sumter County found Wall passed out behind the wheel of his blood-stained car.