Walter Morris needed a little help to abuse a friend's 2-year-old child and punish the boy for a temper tantrum, his former fiancee said Monday.
So he turned to his learning-disabled housemate and to his fiancee, Brooke Anderson. Anderson said Morris told them to hold down little Dustin Gee. It wasn't enough, prosecutors say, for Morris to punch and kick and shake the boy.
Anderson said Morris reached for a small bottle of Tabasco sauce.
As the pair held the boy as instructed, Morris poured the hot sauce down the boy's throat, she said. Then he continued beating the child.
Anderson said she watched the beating without interfering. She said she loved Morris. Anderson wouldn't dare stop the beating or defy his wishes, she said. Later, she admitted lying to protect him, fearing for her life.
"Are you still afraid of him?" a prosecutor asked.
"Yes," she replied.
Anderson, 25, of Dodge City, Kansas, took the stand in the third day of testimony in Morris' trial on a first-degree murder charge for the December 1997 beating death of Dustin. If convicted, Morris faces the death penalty.
Anderson, who lost her own toddler to the state and later agreed to put him up for adoption, is a key witness for the prosecution.
Along with her friends and housemates, Kimberly and Tim Gee, Dustin's parents, she said she witnessed the beating that killed Dustin. Morris, she said, was angered because the boy's tantrum disturbed his evening of watching pro wrestling on television.
The two families lived together in a small Kenneth City apartment after moving down from Kansas.
In her cross-examination of Anderson, Assistant Public Defender Violet Assaid attempted to portray Anderson as a woman who would lie to protect her childhood friend, Kimberly Gee.
Assaid and Assistant Public Defender Chris Helinger say Mrs. Gee caused the injuries that killed Dustin. Earlier in the day, Mrs. Gee beat the child while he rode in the kitchen on his tricycle, defense lawyers said.
Prosecutors Kendall Davidson and Tim Hessinger acknowledge that Mrs. Gee beat her child and was a reprehensible mother. But Morris, they said, inflicted the fatal blows.
On the day Dustin died, Anderson said she heard a loud "thud" in the kitchen while the boy was riding his trike. The boy cried for 5 or 10 minutes, apparently after his mother hit him, lawyers said.
But through the rest of the day, until the fatal beating by Morris, the boy behaved normally, showing no ill effects from the earlier beating, Anderson said.
Defense lawyers noted that Morris, 28, didn't beat the boy whom he believed to be his own son, David, who was 1 at the time. Why, they said, would he have beaten Dustin?
Anderson was asked about that child as Assaid tried to show jurors that Anderson's testimony can't be believed, that she isn't truthful.
She testified, for instance, that she was always absolutely faithful to Morris. But she acknowledged testifying that she told Kansas social workers that another man may have fathered her son, not Morris.
The boy was born a year after she and Morris met, meaning her doubts clearly showed she'd been unfaithful.
"It's pretty simple, isn't it?" Assaid said.
Said Anderson: "I may have got confused on the dates."