Testimony is completed in trial of ex-soldier accused of killing infant son
WüRZBURG, Germany — Three and a half days of testimony at his father’s murder trial have shed little light on the last hours of 3-month-old Isaiah Rucker’s short life.
The child’s father, a 21-year-old ex-soldier named Vada Rucker, rushed the baby to the Würzburg Army Hospital from his off-base apartment shortly after 5 a.m. May 27, 2004, when the baby started spitting up blood and milk during his morning bottle.
Rucker’s wife, Spc. Corinne Montanez, had gone to the hospital — where the couple also worked — a half-hour earlier because she felt sick.
By the time he arrived at the emergency room, Isaiah was dead. An autopsy found he’d been severely shaken, and his soft skull had been broken in three places and his ribs in at least two. Severe bleeding in the brain had killed him, from blows inflicted no more than an hour or two before his death.
“What we found was not only shaking, but impact,” Martin Bauer, the German pathologist who examined Isaiah, said in testimony last week. “The baby must have been hit against a flat surface.”
Within two days, German police arrested Vada Rucker in the office of Paul Bailey, an Army criminal investigator then assigned to Würzburg. Rucker has been held in a Würzburg jail ever since on charges of unpremeditated murder, mistreating a child, and harming a child in a way that caused its death.
Shortly afterward, the Army transferred Montanez to a post near her home in New York. Out of the reach of German law, she has not participated in the court proceedings.
In a brief phone conversation Friday with Stars and Stripes, she said she hadn’t been notified of her husband’s trial until after it started July 5. She remains angry over his acknowledged affair with a German woman, but she doesn’t believe him capable of killing their baby.
Nevertheless, the time of death eliminated all but the parents as suspects, the court concluded.
Bailey testified he decided almost as soon as he met the couple that Rucker battered his wife. The morning of the baby’s death, Montanez had a black eye. Although both said she had hit her eye on a windowsill the day before, he thought they were lying.
“I said, ‘I know he abuses you,’” Bailey recalled. “She said, ‘But he would never hurt the baby.’”
Witnesses also testified that Rucker had gotten into fights during his short military career. He had been forced to leave the Army in 2003 after hitting Montanez, then his girlfriend, hard enough to knock her unconscious.
He also has been charged with raping another soldier in her barracks room in Kitzingen, Germany, in 2003. Rucker said the allegation is false and based on a personal vendetta.
The prosecutor, Eric Ohlenschlager, produced no evidence that Rucker had previously hurt the child. Friends and neighbors said Rucker seemed to care deeply for Isaiah. The couple’s downstairs neighbor, Kramm Edgar, testified Isaiah rarely cried, including on the morning of his death. And day-care workers never saw him with bruises or other signs of battering.
With all testimony now complete, the court adjourned Wednesday. It will resume Tuesday for closing arguments, with the verdict from the five-judge panel to follow the next day.