To prosecutors, Danita Tutt is a dangerous woman who fell just short of killing her son.
They say the Cleburne mother loved the attention she got from having a sick son so much that she lied about Colby Tutt’s symptoms to doctors, resulting in the boy suffering through unneeded procedures.
When her son was later placed in palliative care for pain management, they allege Tutt posted all over on Facebook that her son was dying, drawing in more sympathy along with donations, food, and even an all-expense paid trip to Disney World.
They allege she even later withheld food and water from the 13-year-old boy in hopes of bringing about his death, only to fail because hospice nurses realized what was going on and alerted authorities.
Call it Munchausen syndrome by proxy or medical child abuse, prosecutor Melinda Westmoreland told jurors Tuesday in opening arguments of Tutt’s trial, “but make no mistake about it, this is a child abuse case and but for those hospice nurses, this would be a murder case because they’re the ones that saved his life.”
But defense attorney Terri Moore painted a different picture of Tutt to jurors in a lengthy opening argument.
She described Tutt is a loving mother of two sons who had cared diligently for Colby since his severely premature birth at 27 weeks and through all the medical problems that he’s had in the years since.
Moore said it was at the direction of doctors, not Tutt, that Colby underwent multiple surgeries and procedures as he continued to battle with stomach issues that left him extremely constipated and retching.
And it was at the encouragement of a hospice worker, Moore said, that Tutt planned her son’s funeral arrangements after Colby became septic and the worker told Tutt, “He’s going to die sooner than we thought.”
Moore argued it wasn’t until Tutt made the decision to fire that hospice company and take her son elsewhere that allegations suddenly arose regarding child abuse.
“The very people who are supposed to protect kids have done this family so wrong,” Moore told jurors.
Tutt is accused of three counts of injury to a child and one count of attempted murder.
Her trial in the 432 District Court could take three weeks.
Months earlier, on May 6, Child Protective Services had taken emergency custody of Colby and his younger brother after the Texas agency received a report that Tutt had been refusing to feed and provide water to Colby and had already made funeral arrangements and purchased a casket for the boy. The report was made after Tutt removed Colby from the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth, where he had been receiving palliative care since April 21.
The boys were later placed in the care of their maternal grandparents and Colby is now allowed supervised visits with his mother.
Westmoreland told jurors that CPS lawyers in Johnson County, where the CPS case was handled, “dropped the ball” and allowed Tutt to have access to her son again.
She said after being removed from his mother’s care, Colby gained more than 20 pounds in a two-month period. She told jurors that while Colby does have some legitimate medical issues, doctors determined he never needed a feeding tube or ileostomy — procedures that she said he was only given because of his mother’s lies.
Nor, Westmoreland told jurors, was the child ever diagnosed with a terminal illness as Tutt had told others.
“He’s not safe with his mother,” Westmoreland told jurors. “We’re going to ask you guys to keep him safe.”
Moore accused doctors of inflating Colby’s weight with steroids. She said the boy still has stomach issues even now and that the truth of the matter is Colby is one “lucky little boy” that Tutt is his mother.
“It’s going to be long but at the end of this, we’re going to ask you to lift the burden off these people,” Moore told jurors. “They’ve gone through hell. It’s time they lived together as a family.”