Trial underway for man charged in foster baby death
WINNIPEG – Shortly before a northern Manitoba man was charged with killing his foster child, he told police the baby liked to tumble backwards and hit his head on the floor.
“He liked to fall back like this,” Roderick Blacksmith told an RCMP officer in a videotaped interview that was played Monday on the opening day of his second-degree murder trial.
Blacksmith is then seen jerking his neck forward, demonstrating the way his 13-month-old foster son Cameron Ouskan would react to falling backward.
“But he wouldn’t cry. He’d just roll over and crawl around.”
As the video was played in court, Blacksmith dressed in a black suit, covered his face and wiped away tears. The 33-year-old spent much of the time looking down, holding his head in his hands, with his legs shaking.
Cameron was rushed to hospital from the family home in Gillam, Man., on the night of Nov. 12, 2008 and died several hours later. Medical experts will testify that the baby suffered head injuries, Crown attorney Mark Kantor said in his opening statement.
Blacksmith told police in two interviews that he came home from work around 4 p.m. that day and ran some errands. At supper time, he fed Cameron a jar of baby food and Cameron threw it up — something that was not unusual.
“He had a bad gag reflex,” Blacksmith said during the police interview.
Blacksmith then told police he fed the baby a jar of dessert, bathed him and put him to bed while tending to his other children. He soon went back to check on Cameron.
“He was laying there … and I gave a quick flick of the light.
“His eyes aren’t opening. He isn’t moving.”
Blacksmith said he noticed vomit in Cameron’s mouth and tried to scoop it out. He said he then performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, CPR and called the hospital.
Toward the end of the interview, he tells police he wished he knew what caused Cameron’s death.
“I can’t say. I don’t know what happened.”
The case against Blacksmith is expected to be based on circumstantial evidence. Many of the Crown witnesses are medical experts who will testify about what kind of injuries Cameron suffered and the time frame during which the injuries occurred, Kantor said.
The timing may be critical. Blacksmith worked all day and Cameron was usually left with a babysitter, including on the day of his death. Defence lawyer Saul Simmonds pointed out that the babysitter was initially arrested, but never charged.
Simmonds also had an RCMP officer admit under cross-examination that four other children in the home — all biological daughters of Blacksmith and his wife Brenda Blacksmith — were not looked at as potentially having injured the baby, and that Blacksmith was always co-operative with police.
“He went through this with you as many times as you wanted to pose the questions to him, correct?,” Simmonds asked RCMP Const. Darrell Catellier, who conducted the videotaped interview.
“Correct,” Catellier replied.
The trial is slated to run for five weeks and Blacksmith’s wife is expected to testify Tuesday. She was attending school the evening that Cameron died, leaving her husband as the lone adult in the house.
The baby’s death was one of several high-profile deaths of children involved in Manitoba’s child welfare system.
The province’s former children’s advocate, Bonnie Kocsis, said in 2010 that child welfare was “in a state of chaos” because of a growing number of children in care, high staff turnover and mistrust among foster parents.
A long-awaited inquiry report into Phoenix Sinclair’s 2005 death, with a broad examination of the child welfare system, is expected to be released next month.