“What happened that day was an absolute tragedy. We know and accept that mistakes were made, that things should have been done differently,” he told jurors. “Don’t compound that tragedy by giving into what the government wants.”
This isn’t a murder case,” he argued. “There are consequences, but it’s not murder.”
Rita Pangalangan sat at a table in the corner of the courtroom, dressed in a navy blue pant suit and black ballet flats. A diminutive woman with blonde hair, she blotted her eyes with tissues, shook her head in disagreement and took notes as her parenting was examined under a microscope.
King, her co-defendant, sat a table over from his ex-girlfriend. The burly man with a curly, salt-and-pepper beard and shaved head wore a white button down shirt. His physical presence dominated Pangalangan’s in the courtroom, though he was rarely mentioned during testimony.
His lawyer, Gil Gatch, sought to distance his client from the mother and daughter during opening statements. Gatch said one of the worst mistakes King ever made was getting back together with Pangalangan. Cristina was not his child, the attorney stated, and was not in his custody.
Blood drawn from both King and Pangalangan the day the child died tested positive for methamphetamene. State Law Enforcement Division forensic toxicologist Lindsey Mitchell testified that the drug was active in their bodies, but it could have been consumed up to three days before the day Cristina died, she acknowledged.
Defense attorneys had sought to suppress that information, but were overruled.
The defense also sought to suppress photos from the crime scene, which showed the girl lying on grass with blisters covering her legs and wearing a soiled diaper. The heat index inside the vehicle reached 135 degrees, according to testimony from Andrew Grundstein, a climatology expert.
The defense said the images may inflame the passions of the jury and prejudice the defendants, citing a decision handed down this month by the South Carolina Supreme Court. The court reversed a Summerville woman’s 2019 murder conviction, finding gruesome autopsy photos presented to the jury unlawfully prejudiced the case against her.
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