In court, Merrimack mother charged in her baby's death described as a former crack addict
By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON Union Leader Correspondent
MERRIMACK - A medical expert testified Monday that Melissa Gutierrez, the local mother accused of negligent homicide in the drowning death of her baby, has led a life surrounded with death and drug addiction.
During a hearing Monday in Hillsborough County Superior Court on Gutierrez's motion to suppress illegally obtained statements, Dr. Albert Drukteinis maintained that Melissa Gutierrez was already suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder before her 8-month-old baby was found lying face first in a bathtub filled with water on Aug. 25, 2011.
Gutierrez previously lost her father to a fatal car accident and also grieved her former partner who died in her arms during a heart attack, according to Drukteinis, who testified that the young mother had an addiction to crack cocaine, prostituted herself and was the victim of a gang rape.
Drukteinis said she has attempted suicide in the past, including one attempted suicide incident after the drowning of her baby, Christian Ntapalis. Gutierrez, 27, is facing charges of negligent homicide, manslaughter, two counts of reckless conduct and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child for the drowning incident at her home at 46 Wilson Hill Road. Her trial is expected to begin later this year.
Police allege that she left her two children, Christian, then 8 months, and James Blackington III, then 2 years old, unattended in the bathtub for an extended period of time with the water running. The youngest drowned as a result of her negligence, police said.
Court records indicate that the mother may have fallen asleep on the couch while water overflowed the bathtub where her two children played, eventually flooding the bathroom and causing water to leak through to the basement ceiling.
Monday's hearing addressed a motion to suppress statements that Gutierrez made to police after her son's death. An attorney for Gutierrez, Anthony Sculimbrene, alleged the statements were obtained while Gutierrez was hysterical over the baby's death.
Drukteinis claimed that Gutierrez was suffering from acute stress disorder from the moment she found her baby unconscious, contending the mental illness impacted her ability to make rational decisions when speaking with authorities on three different occasions on the day of the boy's death and the day after. The acute stress disorder causes individuals to become confused, results in memory impairments, presents a disconnect with reality and causes them to feel removed from their environment, the psychiatrist explained.
Gutierrez sobbed during Monday's court hearing, crying aloud during testimony about when she found her son unconscious in the bathtub, and later had the opportunity to say her final goodbye to him at the hospital.
"The level of trauma is very, very severe," said Drukteinis, who added that Gutierrez is still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder today. Sculimbrene added that Gutierrez was hearing voices after the death of her son, and that she once had a vision of Christian bouncing in his exersaucer even though he was already deceased.
Several police officers were called to testify Monday, including Sgt. Kenneth MacLeod. Although Gutierrez was obviously upset, MacLeod said he gave her time to collect herself during questioning at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center the day of Christian's drowning. She was able to answer questions clearly and in a straightforward manner, according to MacLeod, who said he did not use any interview techniques or tactics when questioning Gutierrez.
The following day at the police station, Gutierrez told authorities, "I'm not the reason my baby died . I would never hurt my baby."
Although police offered her the chance to have a blood test taken the day after the drowning, MacLeod said it was her decision, and the procedure was never performed that day. "She was honest with us about drug abuse the day before," MacLeod said, not elaborating on the statement.
David Tencza, assistant Hillsborough County attorney, has filed an objection to the defendant's motion to suppress illegally obtained statements, arguing Gutierrez was not subjected to a custodial interrogation at the time she made incriminating statements to police.
While Gutierrez could not tell authorities how long her sons were unattended in the tub during initial interviews, she eventually told police they were left alone for about 7 to 15 minutes, and an additional 3 to 5 minutes while she searched for a towel in the basement, according to court documents. Court records indicate that the mother may have fallen asleep on the couch while water overflowed the bathtub where her two children played; however, she later changed her story and insisted that she had not fallen asleep, but was instead cleaning the living room.
Her oldest son, James, now 3, was placed in state custody after the incident, as his father is deceased.
Since her son's death, Gutierrez has been arrested three times - once for allegedly stealing jeans from a store in Salem, again for allegedly taking unpaid merchandise from a Rite-Aid in Manchester, and once more for allegedly operating a vehicle after suspension.
Judge Diane Nicolosi will make a decision on whether to suppress the statements in the coming weeks, as the trial will be held later this year.