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KLAPHEKE TRIAL: Week 1 included jury selection, first witnesses in tragic child neglect/death case

Published On: Feb 01 2014 10:31:46 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 03 2014 09:48:06 AM CST
Klapheke Trial Sketch No. 10, Day No. 4

DAY 4: Sketch artist Ruth Jackson depicts Tiffany Klapheke listening -- along with defense attorneys George Parnham and John Young -- as video of her interview with police is being played during the fourth day of her trial. Klapheke is accused of neglecting her toddler daughter who died after Klapheke allegedly failed to feed her.

A look back at Week 1 of the trial of accused mom Tiffany Klapheke through the words of KTXS crime/courts reporter Ariana Garza and KTXS Digital Media Manager Doug Myers.

Klapheke, 23, is on trial for allegedly failing to provide adequate food, water and medical attention to 22-month-old Tamryn before she died. The child’s two young siblings were also found in deteriorating conditions but ultimately survived.

Week 2 of the trial is set to begin this morning.

Monday, Jan. 27 (Day 1)

Jury selection kicked off in the trial of 23-year-old Tiffany Klapheke, who is accused of neglecting her toddler who died after she allegedly failed to feed her.

While 96 people are potential jurors, only 12 will be chosen. The selection process continued throughout the day Monday - with the prosecution taking up most of the afternoon and then the defense taking over.

Klapheke was arrested in August 2012 after she called 911 and first responders found her toddler – Tamryn – unresponsive on Dyess Air Force Base.

She is 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.  

During a pre-trial hearing, prosecutors said two former Child Protective Services supervisors, Bit Whitaker and Gretchen Denny, will invoke the 5th Amendment if asked to testify.

According to CPS, the agency's investigation into the Klapheke home was closed just six days before the toddler died in August 2012 without a mandatory final visit.

A total of four former Child Protective Service workers – and one current employee – are on the witness list for the trial.

All had some involvement – including Whitaker and Denny – in the Klapheke investigation that CPS undertook before the child died.

Others subpoenaed to appear at the trial include Barbara McDaniel, Tiffany Gann, and Rebecca Tapia.  McDaniel is the only one still working for CPS.

Meanwhile, defense motions to quash the Klapheke indictment, ban discussion of the living conditions in the Klapheke house and ban potential evidence of the lack of bonding between Klapheke and her child were denied.

104th District Judge Lee Hamilton did, however, grant a defense motion to not make jurors aware of the fact that Klapheke's former live-in boyfriend, Airman Christopher Perez's, is currently serving a three-year military prison sentence in relation to the case. The defense made the motion since Perez will be called as a witness.

Tuesday, Jan. 28 (Day 2)

A 12-person jury was seated at approximately 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the trial of Tiffany Klapheke, a 23-year-old woman accused of neglecting her toddler daughter to the point of death in 2012.

The jury is made up of six men and six women from a wide range of ages. Two alternate jurors, a man and a woman, have also been selected.

Several of the 96 potential jurors met with prosecutors, defense attorneys and 104th District Court Judge Lee Hamilton prior to the the decision. Some were dismissed after expressing concerns that they could not be impartial toward Klapheke if they were chosen to hear the evidence in her case. 

One, though, said she would not be able to make a judgment in the case, if she became a juror, for religious regions. Yet another excused juror knew witness Gretchen Denny, a former Child Protective Services worker who played a role in the Klapheke case.

Klapheke was arrested in August 2012 after she called 911 and first responders found her toddler – Tamryn – unresponsive at a home on Dyess Air Force Base. She is 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.  

Opening statements are expected to begin Wednesday morning.

Wednesday, Jan. 29 (Day 3)

Jurors were shown more than 170 photos from inside the Dyess Air Force Base home where Tiffany Klapheke's 22-month-old daughter Tamryn died from what officials have called severe neglect.

The photos, presented by Abilene Police Department Officer Randall Farmer, showed food items, toys and stains on both the carpets and mattresses of Tamryn and Klapheke's two other young daughters. Witnesses said the mattress stains appeared to be human waste.

In addition, the photos showed a well-stocked kitchen, despite the autopsy indicating the toddler died of malnutrition and dehydration.

Klapheke, 23, is accused of neglecting and failing to feed her daughters to the point where one of them  – Tamryn  – ultimately died. She was arrested in August 2012 and 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.

Klapheke's then-husband, Thomas, was deployed at the time of Tamryn's death.

The trial started back up at 9 a.m. Thursday, with the prosecution showing a 6-hour, 44-minute police interview with Klapheke.

"I didn't believe what I was seeing," Klapheke said during the interview about when she noticed Tamryn was unresponsive, the child's lips purple.

Later in the interview, Klapheke told police: "I don't want you to take them away because I was lazy," referring to her two other young daughters who survived the alleged neglect.

Meanwhile, Farmer was one of six witnesses that prosecutors called to the stand on Wednesday. Witnesses included five Abilene police officers and a now-retired Dyess Air Force Base sergeant who said the stench inside Klapheke's home was terrible when officials arrived.

“The smell, it hit you in the face like a tennis racket. It was horrible,” said Matthew Jones, a former master sergeant at Dyess Air Force Base who was the first person inside the Klapheke home after Tiffany Klapheke called 911 on Aug. 28, 2012 to report Tamryn was unresponsive.

Abilene Police Det. Ernest Moscarelli reiterated how bad the smell was in the Klapheke home and noted what appeared to be chemical burns on the child. Other witnesses included Abilene police detectives Eric Vickers and Jeff Cowan, along with officer Wallace McDaniel.

All witnesses, except Jones, will be subject to recall.

During Wednesday's opening statements, Klapheke’s defense attorney George Parnham told the six-man, six-woman jury that insanity is not an issue in the trial. He instead talked of the abuse and neglect Klapheke allegedly suffered as a child and a disorder that he said she has.

When entering a plea before opening statements, Klapheke told the jury that she pleaded "not guilty, ladies and gentlemen." Klapheke could be seen tearing up during parts of the opening statements.

In addition to saying Klapheke was abused and neglected as a child, Parnham said Klapheke suffers from “reactive attachment disorder.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, reactive attachment disorder occurs when individuals don’t establish healthy bonds with parents or caregivers. It is the result of neglect, abuse or being orphaned. It develops when a child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren't met and loving, caring attachments with others aren’t ever established, the Mayo Clinic said.

Also during opening statements, prosecutors said Tamryn was left locked in a room for about four days before Klapheke found her unresponsive  and tried to revive her with cold water.

The prosecution detailed the events leading up to Tamryn Klapheke’s death:

*- During July and August 2012, Tiffany Klapheke was often gone from midnight to about 4 a.m. while former Dyess Air Force Base airman Christopher Perez was living there.

*- On Aug. 22, 2012 she called a man named Lenny Guzman to babysit so she could get a tattoo. It’s a Chinese symbol of the mother and daughter with the birthdates of the children.

*- Aug. 24, 2012 -- four days before Tamryn's death -- was the last time Tamryn’s diaper was changed. Tamryn was locked in her room until her death.

*- On Aug. 27, 2012, Tiffany Klapheke went to Walmart at night and bought the girls some new outfits

*- On Aug. 28, 2012, Tiffany Klapheke wanted to bathe the oldest girls (including Tamryn) and realized Tamryn was unresponsive. She tried to revive her with cold water, and when that didn’t work, she called 911.

*- A Child Protective Services caseworker failed to close a 2011 case involving the Klaphekes in the computer system – and that’s why it was closed incorrectly in 2012.

“I anticipate there will be some blame thrown at CPS,” prosecutor Arimy Beasley said, adding “You will not hear that the defendant is insane. You will not hear that she’s incompetent.”

Meanwhile, the defense said the case isn’t about an insanity plea but that they plan to concentrate on Klapheke’s childhood and what’s made her who she is.

“Insanity is not an issue here,” Parnham said. “We are all born into this world without a choice of the circumstances in which we are born.”

The defense said Klapheke was sexually abused by her biological family and later abandoned  –  and that her adoptive father began sexually abusing her.

Consequently, the defense said, she suffers from the disorder that prevents her from bonding with people and that she did love her child – in her own way.

About Tiffany Klapheke’s childhood and adult life, Parnham said:

*- Tiffany Klapheke's birth mother was sexually abused.

*- Klapheke's brother was the product of a rape.

*- Her older sister – who Klapheke was close to – was eventually abandoned by birth mother and ended up abandoning her own kids.

*- Klapheke doesn’t know who her father is.

*- She was sexually abused since age 5.

*- She was eventually abandoned and given to her grandmother who could not take good care of her

*- She was offered to vagrants at a public park for sexual favors.

*- She eventually was put into foster care. She became close with one family but she was aggressive in school due to reactive attachment disorder and the foster family could not handle her because of their other adoptive kids.

*- She went to a family, where the husband molested her for about three years and threatened to kill her if she told. He later took a plea deal.

*- She moved to Dyess at age 19 after marrying former husband, Thomas.

*- Thomas Klapheke voluntarily deployed, leaving their children with her.

Thursday, Jan. 30 (Day 4)

Jurors watched most of a 6-hour, 44-minute, Aug. 28, 2012 police interview with Tiffany Klapheke after she came home and found her toddler daughter unresponsive from what authorities have said was severe neglect.

Klapheke, 23, is accused of neglecting and failing to feed her daughters to the point where one of them – 22-month-old Tamryn – died. The child’s two young siblings were found in deteriorating conditions but ultimately survived.  

"I didn't believe what I was seeing," Klapheke said during the interview about when she noticed Tamryn wasn't responding, the child's lips purple.

Later in the interview, Klapheke told police: "I don't want you to take them away because I was lazy," referring to her two other daughters who survived the alleged neglect.

In the video, Klapheke could be seen crying and hyperventilating when police first started talking to her. At one point, she offered to take a lie detector test to prove she was being honest about the events of the day leading up to her discovery of Tamryn's death. During the interview, she also broke into tears when police began asking her about the state she found Tamryn in.

Meanwhile, Klapheke told police she had asked for a divorce from her now ex-husband, Thomas, when she was driving him to the airport for his summer deployment to Oman. Later, she said, the two decided to try to work things out, but that she had wanted a divorce because she felt neglected and alone.

Klapheke said she was overwhelmed caring for the three children alone. According to Klapheke’s attorneys, Thomas voluntarily deployed. He filed for divorce after Tamryn's death.

When asked about the chemical burns on Tamryn's body, Klapheke told Det. Eric Vickers, who conducted the interview, "I wouldn't hurt her. I wouldn't put her in harm's way."

Klapheke said she didn’t understand how Tamryn died, but speculated that she feared Tamryn may have choked on cereal at some point. 

"I've been honest even though it makes me look horrible. I've told you everything," Klapheke told the detective.

Klapheke said she was overwhelmed.

"I really wasn't a good mom the past few days," Klapheke said, repeatedly insisting to see her surviving children during the 2012 interview.  

Initially, Klapheke said she didn’t need a lawyer. Then, after more than one hour of questioning, she asked, “I can't think straight right now...do I need a lawyer?"

The video is being played as part of the second day of testimony in the Klapheke trial.  

Klapheke was arrested in August 2012 and 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.

The courtroom broke for lunch early at 11 a.m. so work can be done on the quality of the interview video.

Jurors returned at 1 p.m. to continue watching the video.

Friday, Jan. 31 (Day 5)

Accused mom Tiffany Klapheke started hyperventilating, crying and yelling – and had to be escorted from the courtroom – as the second autopsy photo of her toddler daughter Tamryn was shown in court Friday afternoon.

When she returned to court after her outburst, the 23-year-old Klapheke wasn’t allowed to look at devices being used in the room – such as the laptop on her table – to display the photos.

Klapheke, 23, is on trial for allegedly failing to provide adequate food, water and medical attention to 22-month-old Tamryn before she died. The child’s two young siblings were also found in deteriorating conditions but ultimately survived.

Jurors on Thursday and Friday watched Klapheke’s nearly 7-hour interview with police – and other prosecution witnesses – before starting to take a look at autopsy photos Friday afternoon.

The photo that apparently upset Klapheke was the second of what appeared to be up to 20 photos.

Dr. Marc Krouse, chief deputy medical examiner for Tarrant County, said toddler Tamryn was dead six to 16 hours before she was observed at Abilene Regional Medical Center after Klapheke found her unresponsive in her Dyess Air Force Base home.

Tamryn died in late August 2012.

Krouse said fecal matter was found in Tamryn’s stomach and chemical burns – the result of feces – were found on her body. The toddler died face down, he said.

In addition, Krouse said a look at one of Tamryn’s bones showed 15 “Harris lines,” which show up when the bone is trying to recover after not growing for a while. It is the result of extreme stress and can be caused by starvation. The 15 “Harris lines,” Krouse said, are from a year time frame.     

Meanwhile, while being questioned after Tamryn died from what authorities have called severe neglect, Klapheke sobbed and hugged her then live-in boyfriend, ultimately telling him “it’s my fault.”

In the video, after former Dyess Air Force Base airman Christopher Perez entered the interview room, Perez repeatedly said he was sorry what happened to Klapheke.

Perez told Klapheke, "I know you wouldn't do anything to harm anyone."

After calling Perez her “best friend” before he arrived in the police interview room, Klapheke said she realized Tamryn’s purple feet were a problem four days before her death.  

"I just didn't want to be around her...I was so ashamed," Klapheke said.

But, Klapheke added, "I didn't think it was as bad as it was."

Klapheke’s nearly 7-hour police interview showed Klapheke asking to talk to Perez, who a military judge found guilty of three specifications of child endangerment and one specification of adultery.

The military judge recently sentenced Perez, a former senior airman who was stationed at Dyess Air Force Base, to three years confinement – along with calling for his dishonorable discharge from the Air Force – for his role in Tamryn’s death.

Tamryn's death occurred at the Klapheke home on Dyess Air Force Base in August 2012.

“I needed a break,” Klapheke said, when asked by another police detective “did you intentionally leave them in their room?”

On the video, Klapheke also said:

*- “I wasn’t feeding her as much as I should have been.”

*- “Even if I get in trouble, she [Tamryn] deserves me to tell the truth.”

*- “She [Tamryn] deserves for me to do so much better – I owe that to her.”

*- “I owe it to her [Tamryn] to be a good mom to her sisters.”

*- “I didn’t intend for this to happen.”

At the end of the video, Klapheke is arrested – at about 1 a.m. on Aug. 29, 2012.

While Klapheke was read her rights at the beginning of the videotaped interview, Klapheke's defense attorney George Parnham directed questions to point out Klapheke wasn't told her statements were video/audio recorded.

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.

The six-man, six-woman jury began watching the final two hours of Klapheke’s interview with police at 9 a.m. Friday and finished watching the video around 11 a.m. Friday.  Testimony continued Friday afternoon.

Monday, Feb. 3 (Day 6)

The trial is set to resume Monday morning with the prosecution continuing to call witnesses.