NEW PORT RICHEY — Diella Ludwig was 2 months old and weighed barely 7 pounds.
She cried a lot. So her father, Thomas Ludwig, called her his "little b----," prosecutors said Monday as his trial in the infant's murder began.
Her twin sister, Shyloh, was quieter. Ludwig dubbed her his "little angel."
The babies had been born to a mother in prison and thrust into their father's care. In late 2008, Ludwig was floating from house to house with his daughters, living off the kindness of friends. One had kicked him out because of how harshly he treated the babies.
On Dec. 20, authorities say, Diella was fussing again and an overwhelmed Ludwig lost his temper and slammed her head against something hard, inflicting head injuries akin to a high-impact car crash. She died at a hospital, igniting a firestorm over why child welfare authorities ever put two infants in his inexperienced hands.
Ludwig, then 24, was charged with first-degree murder. He could get life in prison if convicted.
The babies' mother, Nicholle West, was released from prison in 2009 after serving time for grand theft. She won a civil settlement earlier this year from the Department of Children and Families for $250,000 for its negligence in the case. There are more suits against other agencies pending.
On Monday, prosecutors called Jonathan and Susan Carpenter, a married couple Ludwig was staying with two winters ago in a house on Richwood Lane in Port Richey.
On Dec. 20, they said, the three of them did some tree-trimming work while a neighbor babysat the twins. When they got home that evening, Ludwig picked up the girls and the Carpenters went into their bedroom.
"We heard commotion in the room, and I went in to see if Tommy needed any help with the baby," Susan Carpenter testified.
Ludwig, she said, told the baby, "shut the f--- up."
"He wasn't hurting her but he was being a little rough with her," Susan Carpenter said. "I told him, the more upset you get, the more upset she's going to get."
Jonathan Carpenter testified that Ludwig didn't want any help.
"He wanted to do it himself," he said.
So they watched as Ludwig wrapped up the baby, shoved her onto a pillow and propped a bottle by her face so she could feed.
They said they went back to their bedroom and soon heard a banging noise that they thought might have been a knock at the door. Then, a few minutes later, came two louder bangs from outside. A house down the street was on fire.
The couple went outside, they said, to check on their neighbors. While they were standing around, they saw Ludwig outside and wondered who was watching the babies.
When the three of them made their way back inside, Ludwig followed the couple into their bedroom.
"He usually talks a lot but he wasn't saying much. He just kind of looked toward the ground," Susan Carpenter said.
A couple minutes later, he said he was going to bed.
Then, Susan Carpenter said she heard a "blood-curdling scream coming from him." She and her husband ran into the bedroom and saw Diella on the floor, no longer wrapped in blankets, limp and lifeless.
"I picked her up and she was like Jell-O," Susan Carpenter said through tears.
She ran, frantic, out of the house with the baby toward the firefighters down the street. Ludwig, she said, stepped in and took the child.
Neighbor Heather Bennett was watching from across the street.
"He walked," she said. "He walked four houses down with that baby not breathing."
Ludwig's attorneys are arguing that the Carpenters had as much opportunity to harm Diella as Ludwig during the fire commotion.
Susan Carpenter is in jail on charges of violating her probation for possession of oxycodone and home solicitation, and Jonathan Carpenter is serving a prison sentence for burglary and grand theft.
"This is a bit of a whodunit," defense attorney John White told jurors. "There were three people in that window of time when this incident took place that arguably had access to that baby."
Ludwig is expected to testify before the case goes to the jury later this week.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.