Investigators testify in Lufkin co-sleeping death trial

Mark Clark. (Source: Angelina County Jail.)
Mark Clark. (Source: Angelina County Jail.)

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Opening arguments began Monday in the trial of Mark Clark, who is charged in the 2010 death of his two-month-old son.

Clark and his wife, Vanessa, were indicted in 2011 and charged with child endangerment.  Investigators said the Clarks fell asleep with baby Tristan in their bed around 11:30.  They woke up to check on the baby and he was unresponsive.

In 2009, the couple was investigated for the death of another child who died while sleeping in bed with them.  An autopsy report of the first child's death said Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was the cause.  No trauma was found.

Prosecutors say the couple should have learned from that first baby's death.  Both had undergone safe sleeping training and had been advised that co-sleeping with their infant child was not safe.

Opening arguments began with prosecuting attorney Dale Summa recalling the incidents that led to the death of Mark Clark's child.

In his argument, Summa described medications found at Clark's residence during a search conducted by the Lufkin Police Department. Summa further described to jurors some of the evidence to be presented in this trial.

Clark's attorney, Bill Agnew, declined to give an opening statement.

Summa began testimony by calling Nathan Smith to the stand as his first witness.

Smith testified that he works for the Lufkin Fire Department.

Summa asked the witness about the call he received the day baby Tristan died.

"I was the lead medic," said Smith.

Smith said when he arrived on scene, the child's mother led him to the bedroom where Clark was performing CPR.

"The child was not breathing. The skin was cold. It was obviously deceased," said Smith.

Smith recalled what he observed when he arrived and observed the baby.

"There was a small amount of blood coming from the nose," said Smith.

Smith said the parents said they found the child unresponsive. From his observations, Smith concluded the child had been dead for some time. However, he says he administered CPR anyway.

In cross-examination, Agnew reminded jurors that Smith said he found Clark trying to save his child's life.

With no further questions, the witness was dismissed from the stand.

Clark's wife has already been convicted of child endangerment.  She is currently awaiting sentencing and faces up to 20 years in prison.

The prosecution called upon Det. Brad Havard of the Lufkin Police Department.

The officer testified that he asked the parents, when he arrived at the hospital, to come down to the police station for questioning.

"I remained there [the hospital] until the funeral home removed the baby," said the witness.

The witness also said he traveled to Dallas, where the baby was taken for autopsy the next day.

Agnew asked the witness if it appeared Clark was under the influence of alcohol or any substance during the incident.

Havard testified that Clark did not appear impaired.

The witness also told Agnew that he was told Vanessa Clark put the baby in the bed that night and was scheduled to go to a doctor's visit later that day.

The state called upon Patrol Officer Lee Joel of the Lufkin Police Department.

The officer said he was dispatched to Clark's home to secure the area the day that baby Tristan was found unresponsive.

Upon arrival, the officer said he noticed a dark-colored car drive by.

"I did see a vehicle leaving that area," said Joel.

However, he was unsure of the car's origination or destination.

With no questions from the defense, the witness was dismissed from the stand.

Officer Stephen Abbott took the stand as the next witness. He testified that he assisted in the execution of the search warrant on the Clarks' home.

Summa presented pictures in front of the jury, which Abbott identified as photos taken by police officers during the search of Clark's home.

Abbott testified that he did not have any direct dealings with Clark. He also stated that there were no tests conducted on the Clarks' bedding. Abbott stated it was only taken up as evidence.

Summa presented the bedding to the court, which Abbott identified as the spread, mattress cover, and pillows from Clark's bed.

The state then called upon Travis Strickland of the Lufkin Police Department. He said he participated in a search of Clark's home following the infant's death in 2010.

"Did you see some pills or pill bottles?" asked Summa.

The witness testified that he did find pills inside of the couple's home.

"Majority of them were empty," replied Strickland.

Strickland said that he took note of the amount of medications and the date they were prescribed. He also said most of the bottles were prescribed to Mark Clark. Strickland said the pill bottles had Hydrocodone and Xanax prescriptions.

Jamie Jenkins, a detective of the Lufkin Police Department, took the stand as the next witness.

The state asked the officer about Clark saying that he would allow his children to sleep in his bed with him.

"He discussed that their 3-year-old would come to the bed quite often," said Jenkins.

Jenkins also said Clark admitted to being addicted to Xanax, which was prescribed to him originally for a back injury. Summa asked the witness about Clark also using marijuana.

"He did say that he would use marijuana on occasion," said Jenkins.

Jenkins said Clark told him his wife also used Xanax.

In cross-examination, Agnew asked Jenkins if Clark appeared impaired when his son died. The witness explained Clark was visibly upset and cooperative when he spoke with him. Agnew also pointed out that the couple told Jenkins that Tristan had been suffering from breathing problems that night.

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