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KLAPHEKE TRIAL: Potential witness can testify despite speaking with accused mother

By Ariana Garza, Weekend Anchor/Crime & Courts Reporter, agarza@ktxs.com
Doug Myers, Digital Media Manager, dmyers@ktxs.com
Published On: Feb 04 2014 10:54:57 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 05 2014 08:48:40 AM CST
ABILENE, Texas -

Tiffany Klapheke’s adoptive mother can be called as a defense witness despite prosecution’s claim Klapheke’s calls to her from jail – since the trial began – violated a rule prohibiting witnesses from speaking about the case.

That’s according to District Judge Lee Hamilton, who listened to prosecutors and Klapheke’s defense attorneys before making the decision.

Klapheke, 23, is facing injury to a child charges in connection with toddler daughter Tamryn’s August 2012 death. Authorities have said her 22-month-old child died from malnutrition and dehydration.

Prosecutors allege the witness rule was violated when Klapheke called Tina Romano, who lives in Kentucky, last Thursday – during the fourth day of the trial – and on Saturday and Sunday.

During the phone conversations, Klapheke and Romano talked about another media outlet's unfair news coverage and about Tamryn's autopsy photos.

In one part of the calls, Klapheke speculated about tampering of evidence in her case, alleging the prosecution may have motive.

Previous story: Social worker tells of past family violence investigation

Thomas and Tiffany Klapheke were investigated for domestic violence in April 2010, more than two years before the Klaphekes’ toddler daughter Tamryn died from what authorities have said was severe neglect.

Ed Wilcock, a social worker with the Dyess Family Advocacy Center, made that revelation Tuesday during the seventh day of the child neglect trial of Tiffany Klapheke.

In addition, Wilcock testified the three Klapheke daughters – Tamryn, Tatum and Taberlee – weren't brought in for medical appointments on Dyess Air Force Base eight or nine times.

Wilcock said he told Klapheke her children were fragile and needed proper nutrition to prevent serious problems or even death. He also said parenting classes, nurse home visits and mental health services were available on base for the Klaphekes.

According to Wilcock, the Dyess investigation of the Klapheke home was closed in December 2011 after improvement was observed.

Tamryn was found dead at the Klapheke home on Dyess Air Force Base on Aug. 28, 2012. Authorities have said the 22-month-old child died from malnutrition and dehydration.

Siblings Tatum and Taberlee were hospitalized and barely survived the supposed neglect.

Klapheke was charged with first-degree felony injury to a child. If convicted, the jury could sentence her anywhere from five to 99 years – or life – in prison.

Thomas and Tiffany Klapheke divorced after Tamryn's death. He was voluntarily deployed when the child was found.

Wilcock said he would have advised against his deployment if he had known.

Meanwhile, Dr. Justin Smith, the pediatrician on call at Hendrick Medical Center the night Tamryn died, testified Tuesday about what he saw when he treated Tamryn’s siblings Tatum and Taberlee.

Prosecutors have said Klapheke – before Tamryn’s death – locked the toddler in a room for four days when she found the child dead and called 911.

The two sisters reportedly were suffering from malnutrition and dehydration when they were brought in on Aug. 28, 2012. However, unlike Tamryn, they survived.

Previous story: Prosecution objects to phone call between Klapheke, adoptive mother

Prosecutors say they would object to testimony from accused mom Tiffany Klapheke’s adoptive mother because of a recorded jail phone call between the two last Thursday.

According to prosecutors, the phone call – in which Klapheke and Tina Romano talked about unfair news coverage and Klapheke’s potential punishment – violated a judge’s rule prohibiting contact with potential witnesses.

The Taylor County trial of the 23-year-old Klapheke entered its second week Monday. She is facing injury to a child charges in connection with toddler daughter Tamryn’s August 2012 death. Authorities have said her 22-month-old child died from malnutrition and dehydration.

District Judge Lee Hamilton invoked a rule prohibiting both potential and actual trial witnesses from talking about the case.

Romano is a potential witness for the defense.

Prosecutors would like the recorded conversation played during the trial to show Romano broke the judge's rule and shouldn't be allowed to testify for the defense.

While Klapheke’s defense attorneys say the phone conversation should be played in private, prosecutors say they would like it to be played in public.

It could be admitted into court - either publicly or privately - as early as Tuesday.

Prosecutors said Romano, who lives in Kentucky, spoke with Klapheke about unfair news coverage and what she believed Klapheke’s punishment should be down to a specific sentence.

Meanwhile, a cart of evidence was rolled into court Monday, including  a small trashcan of dirty diapers, a stained playpen mattress and stained piece of carpet – all from the Klapheke home.

Prosecutors have said Klapheke – before Tamryn’s death – locked the toddler in a room for four days when she found the child dead and called 911.