Father’s Obsession Brings Trials In Daughter’s Death
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) _ At first, Air Force Capt. Peter King couldn’t believe the death of his 2- year-old daughter was anything but an accident.
When he decided it wasn’t, he and his second wife, Linda, spent almost every waking hour tracking down leads. Their dogged pursuit of evidence is credited with reopening a case shelved by police.
This week, King’s ex-wife and her alleged female lover go on trial in state court, charged with murdering Michelle King on a hot summer night nearly thee years ago.
Defense attorneys contend the death was an inexplicable accident. The Kings believe Michelle was violently shaken and hit on the head for defecating in her pants.
Bill Cooper, the deputy state attorney general who is the special prosecutor in the case, says he will advance his own theory during the trial.
By all accounts, Michelle was an ordinary, healthy 2-year-old when she was picked up from a babysitter by her mother on July 19, 1984. Air Force Capt. Georganna Lagen, who had divorced King earlier in the year, took Michelle and 5-year-old son Robert to the home she shared with Paula Martineau.
That same day Nellis Air Force Base officials told Lagen and her ex-husband that their promotions to the rank of major had been recommended for approval. Soon, once-promising mililary careers would be over.
That night, an ambulance sped an already brain-dead Michelle to Humana Hospital Sunrise.
What happened during the five hours between the time Michelle was taken home and when the ambulance was called may never be known. The two women and the children splashed in the pool and later ate dinner together. Defense attorneys say Michelle was put to bed that night without indication that anything was wrong.
The doctor who initially examined Michelle at the hospital suspected that the little girl was the victim of child abuse. He called police, who questioned Lagen and Martineau. Polygraph tests were given to the women; Lagen’s attorney, Aubrey Goldberg, says they passed.
After the girl was taken off of life support systems, an autopsy showed the cause of death as blunt trauma to the head. The autopsy was supposed to be done by a forensic pathologist in the coroner’s office, but instead was done by a hospital doctor.
The Kings persuaded another pathologist to take a look at the case. The doctor, Willis M. Russell, studied medical and autopsy reports before concluding Michelle was killed by a blow delivered by an unknown assailant.
Police said they could not find enough evidence to charge the women, but presented with Russell’s findings, the state attorney general’s office agreed to take the case.
In May 1985, 10 months after Michelle died, Cooper won authorization for a secret exhumation of her body. Tissue taken from the girl’s head were examined and found to be from bruises. There was evidence of a massive hemorrhage.
A second exhumation a month later found a hairline fracture on Michelle’s skull, which doctors concluded was consistent with her being violently shaken. Either injury could have killed her.
The evidence was taken before the Clark County Grand Jury, which on July 25, 1985, indicted Lagen and Martineau on charges of murder and child abuse charges. Bail was set at $100,000.
During a preliminary hearing, Cooper said the child ″was beaten, literally beaten to death.″
″No one can point to an accident that was seen,″ argues Goldberg. ″It’s a tragic thing, something we concede doesn’t happen every day. But the evidence will show it was an accident as far as anybody can tell or is going to be able to tell.″
Both sides acknowledge the case would never have gone to trial if Peter and Linda King hadn’t pushed hard.
″It was their screaming and yelling that got us to take a look at this,″ said Cooper.
Since it began, Lagen has lost her Air Force commission. King went before an Air Force board to face allegations of contributing to her alleged homosexual conduct. He was cleared, but is being forced out of the Air Force this summer after being passed over for promotion.
″I just couldn’t bury my daughter and forget about it,″ said King, who says he feels emotionally drained after nearly three years of preoccupation with Michelle’s death.
″If you hear me talk, you’d think I was a nut,″ he added. ″I’m not a nut. It took me a year and a half to believe this myself.″