Guilty verdict in mutilation trial

August 14, 2009 4:54:09 PM PDT
A Houston mother was convicted Friday of mutilating her infant son by cutting off his genitals two years ago during an attack she blamed on the family dog. A Harris County jury deliberated for about three hours before finding Katherine Nadal guilty of first-degree felony injury to a child.

Nadal had claimed the family dog, a 6- to 7-pound dachshund named "Shorty," was responsible for mutilating her then-5-week-old son, Holden Gothia, as she slept next to him. But prosecutors told jurors the 28-year-old mother was high on drugs when she mutilated Holden with an unknown sharp instrument in their suburban Houston apartment in March 2007.

The jury also determined she used a deadly weapon in committing the crime although no weapon was ever recovered by authorities.

Nadal had no visible reaction to the verdict, but Holden's family and friends cried and hugged each other in the courtroom.

The seven woman, five man jury was set Friday afternoon to begin hearing evidence in the punishment phase of the trial before deciding Nadal's sentence. She faces up to life in prison. The punishment phase was expected to continue into next week.

During 11/2 hours of closing arguments earlier Friday, prosecutor Tammy Thomas scoffed at Nadal's defense claim.

"Their reasonable explanation, are you ready for this? The dog ate the evidence," she told jurors. "That doesn't even work for homework anymore. It's not only unbelievable, it's ridiculous."

Doctors who examined Holden testified during the weeklong trial it was not possible for the dog to have caused the injuries.

Thomas said Nadal and Holden's father, Camden Gothia, got into an argument the night before the attack because Nadal was high on cocaine. Authorities say Nadal, who has a history of drug abuse and has had prior drug arrests, tested positive for cocaine, methadone and Xanax after the attack.

"Nobody wants to believe a mother did this to her child. Nobody does. We wish it was not true but it is true," Thomas said.

Holden, who lost half the blood in his then-9-pound body, survived the attack, but the severed body parts were never found.

Nadal's defense attorneys, meanwhile, told jurors prosecutors had no direct proof their client mutilated her son.

Skip Cornelius, one of Nadal's defense attorneys, said his client was not on trial for negligence or using drugs or child endangerment.

"You can conclude she's a bad mom. She's on trial for intentionally doing this. Other than their theories, you have no evidence," he said.

Investigators did not find DNA or blood evidence on any instrument or sharp object they found in the apartment or in the sink or garbage disposal.

Prosecutor Denise Oncken told jurors no DNA evidence or weapon was found because Nadal cleaned the crime scene before authorities arrived.

Cornelius reiterated to jurors it was possible for the dog to have done this. An animal behavior expert testified on behalf of Nadal, saying this was possible.

But Cornelius also raised the possibility another person could have mutilated Holden, although no evidence of this was presented at trial.

"I don't know if Shorty did it, but don't tell me it's impossible," Cornelius said.

An animal control officer who examined the dog found no blood in its mouth, on its fur or on its paws, and there were no bloody footprints around the bed where Holden was sleeping.

Holden, now 2, lives with his paternal aunt and her husband, who were given custody after his parents relinquished their rights. His father sees him regularly.

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