A Uniontown father on trial for homicide in the 2016 death of his 23-month-old daughter testified Wednesday he did not check on his daughter for at least 13 hours while she was in a car seat in an adjacent room in the hours leading up to her death Feb. 24.
“It was tragic. It put me in shock. I never had to deal with any kind of death before that. It was overwhelming,” Michael Lynn Wright Jr., 35, told Fayette County jurors.
Wright largely passed responsibility onto his girlfriend, Andrea E. Dusha, during his testimony. Dusha, 29, the mother to Lydia Wright, entered a no-contest plea to third-degree murder in September.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht testified Lydia died of malnutrition and dehydration about two hours before she was taken to the hospital.
“The baby weighed about 10 pounds,” said Wecht, who completed her autopsy.
The girl’s pediatrician testified Tuesday she should have weighed about 20 pounds based on her growth chart. She weighed 16 pounds around the time of her first birthday when she was weighed during an appointment for government assistance. She had not been seen by a doctor since she was four months old, according to testimony.
Multiple factors indicated Lydia was malnourished aside from her weight, including bands that appeared on her bones in an X-ray and a lack of “well-formed” stools in her intestines, Wecht testified.
She appeared to be severely dehydrated, Wecht said, noting her skin had “significant tenting,” meaning it did not bounce back when pinched, and her eyes were slightly recessed, both common indications of dehydration.
Wecht found “a few small particles of food” and about two teaspoons of liquid in her stomach, he testified. Tests for illnesses were negative, he said.
Hospital staff reported the baby’s limbs were becoming rigid when she was brought to Uniontown Hospital at about 10:30 a.m., which Wecht said takes about two hours after death. Her temperature at about 11:30 a.m. was about 96.4 degrees. Wecht said a body loses about 1½ degrees of heat in the first hour after death, and about one degree per hour afterward.
Wright testified he did not know anything was seriously wrong with his daughter, both during his testimony and in a recorded interview with state police Feb. 25. He said he was on a mattress in an adjacent room with his sons between about 9 p.m. Feb. 23 and 11:30 a.m. Feb. 24, when Dusha called from the hospital.
In an interview played for the jury, Wright told police he was on a mattress in an adjacent room with his sons the evening of Feb. 23 and on Feb. 24, when Dusha called from the hospital.
Troopers asked Wright why he “didn’t bother” to get up off his mattress when his daughter “was probably dead in the other room.”
“I’m a male. I like to be with my boys,” he responded.
He said he did not get up because he did not want to wake up his sons. If he heard Lydia crying, he said he would have “jumped out of bed and gone to get her,” then added, “or told Andrea to get up.”
He told troopers he avoided changing Lydia’s diaper because of a history of sexual abuse in his family.
In looking at photographs of their Collins Avenue home Wednesday, strewn with trash, toys and bottles of urine, Wright acknowledged it was “embarrassing.” He testified he needed Dusha’s help to clean. He and his sons often bathed at his father’s house in Waynesburg, he testified. The family’s water and sewage service were cut off in November after they lost a portion of their government assistance.
Wright said he did not see his daughter often in the three weeks leading up to her death, saying Dusha took Lydia and their youngest son to her mother’s house in Greensburg. Dusha testified Tuesday she took the children there for two nights from Feb. 17 to 19.
Wright offered testimony that contradicted statements to police and contradicted his own testimony. He testified he bought pizza for the family Feb. 22, which he did not tell state police when repeatedly asked when he last fed Lydia. Wright claimed he told an officer and a social worker about the pizza during an interview that was not recorded. He also denied telling them he woke up at 7 a.m. in the same interview.
He testified he was “three-quarters asleep” the morning his daughter died, and “reminded” Dusha to go the welfare office. He testified Lydia wore size 5 diapers and clothes size 18 to 24 months. Assistant District Attorney Melinda Dellarose showed Wright a text message from Dec. 24, which said Lydia was still wearing size 12 to 18 months. He responded there was “not much difference” between the sizes.
Wright’s father, Michael L. Wright Sr., and Pamela Wilson, a former daycare worker at the shuttered methadone clinic Addiction Specialists Inc., both testified they saw the children regularly through the fall of 2015. They appeared clean and healthy, they testified. Wright Sr. said he never saw Lydia again after mid-December. Wilson said she saw the children only briefly and periodically after the daycare closed following a fire in July 2015.
In Wright’s interview with state police, Wright said if Lydia died of malnutrition, “We’re both at fault.”
Jurors will hear closing remarks today, and begin their deliberations in the case.