Crime & Courts

Signs of trouble for baby at birth

When Robby T. Cox was born on Oct. 15, 2007, there were signs of trouble in his life.

For one thing, he had a component of marijuana in his system when he was born, a court document says.

Three and a half months after he was born, he died from severe head injuries, a coroner concluded. While he was alone with his mother in his room at Wesley Medical Center, he suffered skull fractures and rib fractures, authorities said. Wesley spokesman Paul Petitte said he knows of no other incident like it at an area hospital.

Robby's death on Feb. 1, 2008, marked the second of seven child-abuse homicides in Wichita that year, a string that alarmed the community.

Last week, just as Robby's mother, 25-year-old Megan Mott of Great Bend, was to be tried on a second-degree intentional murder charge in her son's death, she pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of second-degree reckless murder.

According to new information available through court records, Robby was born with THC — the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana — in his system, Mott's defense attorney said in a court document filed a few days before her trial was to begin.

In the document, Chief Public Defender Steve Osburn also said that SRS, the state child-welfare agency, "has been involved in the other children of the Defendant."

Osburn was asking that potential jurors not hear any mention of THC or SRS involvement. Either piece of information would "paint the Defendant in a bad light" and cause jurors to be prejudiced toward Mott, Osburn said in the document.

In a brief interview last week, Osburn said that if the case had been tried, he would have argued that Robby's death was an accident, but he declined to comment on the document.

It's not clear from the document whether SRS was involved with Robby's family before or after his death.

Great Bend police Detective Heather Smith, who handles cases involving SRS, said SRS was dealing with Robby's family before his death, although she didn't know the reason or the extent. If there had been a report of suspected abuse or neglect regarding Robby or any other child in his family, she would have investigated it, but she received no such report, she said.

Background on case

SRS spokeswoman Michelle Ponce said she can't comment on Robby's case because of confidentiality laws. But in general, if a child is born exposed to a substance like THC, the agency would learn of it if a hospital or medical worker reported it, Ponce said. Such a report would come to a SRS child protection report center and would be reviewed by a social worker to determine whether it merited investigation.

The social worker would assess the risk to the child, including the child's vulnerability, the parents' or relatives' capacity to protect the child and their participation in treatment or services and the potential for parents to provide adequate care, Ponce said.

In general, Ponce said, it would not be uncommon for SRS to be involved with a family after the death of child if the family has other children.

Mott also has a daughter, now about 5, according to an affidavit she filled out when requesting a public defender.

In a case where a child dies allegedly at the hands of a parent, Ponce said, "Certainly, this would be the kind of circumstance where it would be necessary to assess the (safety of) other children in the home and take appropriate action based on that assessment."

At the time of Robby's death, his family was living in a house in Great Bend.

A neighbor, who asked that her name not be used, said Mott often walked to the store, carrying a child, because she didn't have a car that ran.

Prosecutor's account

According to a transcript of an April 12 court hearing during which Mott entered her no-contest plea, prosecutor Donna Longsworth gave this description of the crime:

On Jan. 29, 2008, 3 1/2-month-old Robby was in a room at Wesley Medical Center. He had been in the hospital about a month and had been treated for a respiratory virus.

He was recovering.

Repeated testing by hospital staff included a full-body scan that showed no fractures, no injuries to his body.

Early that January morning, Robby lay in his hospital room, hooked to monitors. His mother, Mott, was the only person with him.

When the monitors sounded loudly, nurses rushed in and saw Mott putting Robby back into his crib.

The nurses saw that the baby was turning blue and that his head was swelling.

Doctors found an "impact mark" on the back of his skull and two skull fractures. He also had suffered three broken ribs.

Robby died of his injuries about three days later, Longsworth said in court.

The state alleges that Mott killed her son and "did so unintentionally but recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, to the value of Robby Cox's life," Longsworth said.

A coroner found that the injuries were fresh and came from "a severe force or a significant amount of force."

During interviews with investigators, Mott "indicated that those injuries were caused when she was carrying around Robby Cox in that hospital room. She stated that she tripped and fell and that those injuries were caused when Robby Cox hit the crib in the hospital room and... she caught him before he hit the floor."

But, Longsworth added, "The coroner would testify that that would not be consistent with the injuries that he observed to Robby Cox."

Mott is defended

In Great Bend, Mason Cox, Mott's husband, told The Eagle in a brief interview last week that Robby's death was "purely an accident."

"The only difference... is it happened in a hospital," Cox said.

"She accidentally dropped him. It was 3 o'clock in the morning. This is what she told to me.

"This was just an accident, and look at what it turned into."