Mom blames housemate, fear of satanic cult for son's death

Autistic boy tied up, scalded, struck on head

Tucson Citizen/August 1, 2008

Diane Lynn Marsh, a Tucson woman accused of abusing and killing her 5-year-old autistic son, isn't to blame for Brandon Williams' death in March 2007, her defense attorney says.

"She loved her son," Pima County Assistant Public Defender Steve Sonenberg said in his closing argument Thursday.

"She was a victim herself of mind control," Sonenberg said.

The jury received instructions Thursday and was to start deliberations Friday.

Marsh, 41, testified earlier Thursday that every bad act that happened to her son - being tied to his bedposts, having his feet scalded in hot water and dying from a blow to the head - was the result of her housemate Flower Tompson's power over her.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Shawn Jensvold told jurors in his closing argument that Marsh "probably snapped" because she wasn't taking her medications for depression and wasn't giving Brandon his, which caused him to be more hyperactive than usual.

"She clearly loved her son," Jensvold said. "A mother is supposed to love her son.

"Loving people do bad things when the circumstances get tough," Jensvold said.

Jensvold labeled as a smokescreen testimony by Marsh regarding Marsh's fear of a murderous satanic cult that was supposedly after her and her son.

"The defense and anything else Miss Marsh said to minimize her behavior is not a defense. They're excuses," Jensvold said.

"There's no excuse for tying a boy to a bed frame, whether it's to get out the satanic influences or teach him a lesson, or put a child in scalding water until the skin on his feet peel off. And it's certainly no excuse for pushing a child down on a tile floor and killing him," Jensvold said.

Marsh is accused of first-degree murder and four counts of child abuse in the death of her son.

Brandon was taken to a hospital March 22, 2007, where he died of blunt force trauma to his head, chest, abdomen and limbs, according to an autopsy report.

Tompson, 28, who didn't testify, was indicted on first-degree murder and child abuse charges, but agreed to plead guilty to child abuse. She faces five to 15 years in prison when she is sentenced Sept. 2.

Marsh testified she met Tompson through a mutual friend in August 2006. By month's end, Tompson had Marsh convinced she was involved in a satanic group that Marsh feared would kill Brandon, she said.

Tompson told Marsh "satanic groups had to kill a family member, persons who were true blood" Marsh testified.

Within a couple of months of meeting Tompson, Marsh testified, she became estranged from everyone she knew, including a pastor she was convinced was part of the satanic group.

At one point, Marsh testified, she and Tompson took a three-day trip to New Mexico, Colorado and Utah in search of "high priests" whose license plate numbers they would give to a mysterious juvenile probation officer in Tucson who would have them arrested.

Marsh never met the probation officer, saying she just heard about him through Tompson.

Marsh testified she told friends she feared Brandon would be killed by the satanic group.

"I was told Brandon was worth $3.4 million dead," Marsh said. "The groups wanted to kill him."

"Groups?" Sonenberg asked.

"(For a) sacrifice," Marsh said.

"Did you believe that?"

"Yes," she said.

In late February or early March last year, Tompson told Marsh to stick Brandon's feet in hot water to teach him a lesson about disrespecting her, Marsh said.

Brandon began crying and Marsh took his feet out, she said.

"Flower said, 'Get out of the way, I will show you how to do it.' She picked him up and stuck him in there," Marsh said.

Brandon was screaming and thrashing for several minutes while the skin burned from the bottom of his feet, Marsh testified.

"I just stood there frozen," Marsh said.

This case and an unrelated case involving two Tucson siblings were the focal point of an investigation into whether Child Protective Services could have prevented the children's injuries or deaths.

In the other case, Christopher Mathew Payne, 30, and his live-in girlfriend, Reina Irene Gonzales, 24, are charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Payne's children, Ariana, 4, and Tyler, 5. Payne and Gonzales could face the death penalty if convicted.

Prosecutors aren't seeking death if Marsh is convicted. If she is convicted of first-degree murder, she faces either life in prison without parole or with parole possible after 25 years.

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