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Mother says she no longer believes toddler killed baby

July 10, 1997

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) _ The mother of a girl who was blamed for killing her baby brother 26 years ago testified today that she no longer believes the toddler was responsible for the boy’s death.

Kathy Almon stopped short, however, of saying she believes her ex-husband, Jan Barry Sandlin, killed the baby.

She said she has cooperated with the prosecution at Sandlin’s murder trial because she wants to know what really happened to her son.

``I want to know how he died. I want to know what happened to him,″ she said, choking back tears.

Sandlin, 46, is on trial for murder, aggravated assault and child cruelty in the 1971 death of 4-month-old Matthew Golder. The death was ruled an accident at the time, but prosecutors now contend Sandlin beat the baby to death.

Ms. Almon said she and 2-year-old Tracy Golder had left the boy with Sandlin while they went to do laundry that day. When she came home, Sandlin ``jumped up in front of the doorway and said, `Matt is asleep. Go get the clothes out of the car,‴ she said.

Sandlin contended that Tracy, now Tracy Rhame, then climbed into the baby’s crib and threw him to his death, she said.

In the years that followed, whenever she and Sandlin talked about the tragedy, all the pieces didn’t fit, Ms. Almon said. ``He told me it was an accident and that I needed to get over it.″

She said she had never known Tracy to try to climb into the crib, and Matthew was too young to roll over or pull himself to the railing.

Mrs. Rhame testified Wednesday that she later questioned her mother about the death.

``My mother told me it was easier to place the blame on me than it was on him,″ Mrs. Rhame told the court Wednesday.

But Sandlin’s lawyer told jurors that Mrs. Rhame, 28, wanted the case reopened because her mother told her differing stories about how her brother died.

``This is also a story about a little girl who was lied to,″ said public defender Corinne Mull. ``Twenty-six years of lying is what you’ll hear about in the next few days.″

Ms. Mull said that over the years, Ms. Almon told her daughter that the baby died as a result of crib death, injuries from a fall through slats in the crib and falling after trying to climb out of the crib.

Prosecutors contend Sandlin put Tracy into the baby’s crib to cast blame on her.

Her voice shaking and her eyes filling with tears, Mrs. Rhame told the court how she started her quest for answers in 1985.

She said for years her mother refused to be involved in her efforts.

But Mrs. Rhame said her mother eventually told her that Sandlin killed the child.

``She told me `He did it. Just forget about it,‴ Mrs. Rhame said, recounting a conversation with her mother from the late 1980s. She said her mother later recanted her statements and tried to dissuade her from digging into the past.

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