Homicide charges bound for trial

City teen accused of smothering baby will face jury

A 19-year-old Altoona man accused of smothering a baby will face trial.

Wearing orange Blair County Prison clothes and flanked by his public defenders, Drue S. Burd at times leaned over and stared at the defense table as Magisterial District Judge Daniel DeAntonio heard testimony in Burd’s preliminary on homicide and related charges in the May death of 16-month-old Angela Elizabeth Jones Beard.

The baby’s mother, Vanessa Jones, sobbed heavily at times and had to leave the crowded courtroom as Altoona police Sgt. Joseph Merrill told the judge how, during an interview on the evening of May 24, Burd confessed to suffocating Angela by putting his hand over her nose and mouth several days earlier.

“I wasn’t trying to kill her,” Merrill said as he read the transcript of the confession. “I was just trying to put her out,” Burd reportedly told police.

The baby was rushed to the hospital on the morning of May 20 after Burd said he found her unresponsive in a playpen at his apartment, Altoona police Detective Cpl. Drew Emswiler testified.

The baby’s mother was still sleeping, and Burd and his son were in the living room with Angela, who was in a playpen, Emswiler said, relaying the story Burd told police in two separate interviews prior to the alleged confession on May 24.

Burd initially said he fell asleep and awoke to seeing his son throwing toys into the playpen. When he looked inside, he saw the baby was unresponsive, Emswiler said of Burd’s initial story.

Angela was taken to UPMC Altoona where she was put on a respirator and flown to Pittsburgh where in the late morning of May 25, she died.

Emswiler said a check of the child’s medical records showed no reason why she would have become unresponsive and died.

Burd stuck with his initial story when questioned at the hospital on May 20 and then the next day. On May 24, police learned he wanted to talk with them a third time, Merrill testified.

It was Merrill who questioned Burd the third time, and Merrill said after Burd tried to again say he didn’t know what had happened to the baby, the veteran officer told the 19-year-old he didn’t believe his story. Merrill recalled Burd appeared nervous, didn’t make eye contact and ultimately the officer and Burd came to the agreement that the child died after suffering injuries at the hands of someone, even though Burd said he didn’t know how.

When Merrill told Burd he believed he had injured the child, Burd allegedly asked the officer to stop the recording of the interview.

Burd then asked Merrill questions, such as what would happen if he had injured the baby, and ultimately, Burd confessed, the officer told the court.

A few minutes later, Merrill turned the recorder on again and had Burd repeat the confession.

Burd allegedly said the baby wouldn’t go back to sleep, so he put his hand over her nose and mouth, knowing he was keeping the girl from breathing. Burd said he held his hand there for a few minutes.

When he saw she wasn’t moving, he got scared, picked her up and started CPR as the baby’s mother appeared in the doorway, Merrill said.

Blair County Coroner Patricia Ross testified an autopsy showed the baby died of asphyxiation due to suffocation and by cutting off the child’s breathing, she suffered brain trauma and swelling that spread to her brain stem and spine.

Burd’s attorney, Public Defender Russ Montgomery, kept his questions for witnesses to the time frame around the confessions and the details of the autopsy but offered no closing argument.

Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio told DeAntonio he had no closing argument, either.

“I don’t think any are required, your honor,” Consiglio said.

DeAntonio bound all five charges against Burd — homicide, aggravated assault, strangulation, endangering the welfare of a child and simple assault — over for trial in Blair County Court.

Burd remains in jail without bail.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.