The fate of a Cleburne mother accused of exposing her son to unneeded surgeries through lies to doctors, then trying to kill the boy by withholding food, now rests with a Tarrant County jury.
Danita Thetford Tutt, 42, is charged with three counts of causing serious bodily injury to her son, Colby, and one count of attempted murder.
After listening to three weeks of testimony, jurors began deliberations about 4 p.m. Monday. They recessed shortly before 6:30 p.m. with plans to resume deliberations Tuesday morning.
Defense attorneys Terri Moore and Mike Ware argued that prosecutors and investigators did not investigate a case, but rather built one, picking and choosing what they wanted to create a narrative.
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“This is a case in which no crime happened, no crime occurred,” Ware told jurors. “Now, a lot of effort has gone into manufacturing something that might look like a crime, but no crime occurred.”
The defense attorneys said doctors from Cook Children’s Medical Center made decisions regarding Colby’s surgeries and placing him in hospice care.
“All Danita has ever done is love this little boy and take him to get the medical attention that he needs,” Moore told jurors.
The defense attorneys say Tutt became a scapegoat after she made the decision to fire Angels Unaware, a pediatric hospice company, and take her son elsewhere. They say the doctors at Cook and the hospice company immediately circled the wagons, hurled abuse accusations and blamed Tutt for causing her son to undergo surgeries they now say the boy didn’t need.
“The people at Cooks have an ax to grind,” Moore told jurors.
Moore pointed to doctors outside of Cook who testified for the defense that Colby did, in fact, need the surgeries that he underwent.
Prosecutor Melinda Westmoreland told jurors the defense’s explanations that the Cook doctors were conspiring together against Tutt doesn’t “make any sense at all.”
Why, she said, would the doctors place such scrutiny on themselves and admit they gave Colby surgeries he didn’t need based on Tutt’s lies about the boy’s symptoms. Wouldn’t it have been easier, she asked jurors, for the doctors to have simply stood by the surgeries they performed.
“Their job is to protect children. Their job is to protect Colby and that’s what they did,” Westmoreland said.
She also questioned what motive the hospice owner and a registered nurse would have in sharing their concerns with authorities that Colby ate fine when observed outside the presence of his mother.
Westmoreland called Tutt a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who surrounds herself with people who are easily deceived.
She said the crux of the case is how Colby did after being removed from Tutt’s care, including gaining 20 pounds in six weeks. Prosecutors say it’s only been since a Johnson County attorney for Child Protective Services dropped the case against Tutt and she’s been allowed access to her son again, that constipation problems have started to resurface with Colby.
“This case boils down to a very simple fact,” Westmoreland said. “She stopped feeding her son. She lied about his symptoms. She exaggerated his symptoms, and he almost died because of it.”
Prosecutor Dale Smith pointed to several of Tutt’s Facebook messages, which gave updates about her son’s deteriorating condition, some that were never made by doctors or that contradicted the truth. He said Tutt never celebrated her son’s improvements on Facebook because that wouldn’t garner her attention.
He said when Tutt removed Colby from hospice care, it was not to seek help for the boy elsewhere but to place him into a different hospice program that wouldn’t undermine her intentions.
“So she can finish the job that she started and that’s killing him,” Smith told jurors.
He said it is Tutt’s family who are now circling the wagons, trying to protect Tutt.
He closed his statement: “If the defendant is not guilty, there’s no one else that can save Colby.”