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Judge reduces bail for couple; Parents charged with manslaughter in daughter's death.

Byline: Gary V. Murray

WORCESTER - Bail was reduced yesterday for a city couple charged with manslaughter in the antihistamine overdose death of their infant daughter nearly three years ago.

Christopher Watt, 36, and Julia L. Herne, 34, both of 5 Almont St., Apt. 2, were arraigned Friday in Worcester Superior Court on involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment of a child charges in the Dec. 13, 2005, death of their 11-month-old daughter, Courtney Watt. Prosecutors said the child died as a result of "acute diphenhydramine intoxication" after ingesting more than one capsule of the drug, an over-the-counter antihistamine sold under brand names that include Benadryl.

Judge James R. Lemire lowered Mr. Watt's bail from $20,000 cash to $15,000 cash and Ms. Herne's bail from $10,000 cash to $7,500 cash after a hearing yesterday. While the couple remained in custody after the hearing, Ms. Herne's lawyer, Peter L. Ettenberg, said he expected both to be bailed out by tomorrow.

Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey T. Travers said during the couple's arraignment Friday that police investigators learned Ms. Herne took about 50 Benadryl capsules from the dispensary where she was working at the time of her daughter's death and kept them on a nightstand in the June Street home in which the family was then living. Mr. Travers said it was also learned that the container of Benadryl was spilled on the floor on at least one occasion and that not all of the capsules had been found as of about a week before the child died.

The prosecutor also said Ms. Herne acknowledged that she and Mr. Watt were addicted to oxycodone at the time of their daughter's death. Although Ms. Herne noticed that her daughter was out of sorts the afternoon before the infant died, she returned to work and no one sought medical attention for the child until she was found unresponsive the next morning, Mr. Travers said.

Judge Robert W. Gardner Jr. set the couple's bails "without prejudice" Friday, clearing the way for yesterday's hearing before Judge Lemire.

Mr. Ettenberg and Mr. Watt's lawyer, Jennifer L. Ginsburg, argued yesterday that their clients did not pose a flight risk and had remained in the area fully aware that a criminal investigation was under way in connection with their daughter's death. The two were arrested on warrants Thursday night after a grand jury returned indictments against them earlier in the day.

Mr. Ettenberg asked that Ms. Herne's bail be lowered to $5,000 cash, and Ms. Ginsburg asked Judge Lemire to reduce Mr. Watt's bail to $10,000 cash.

Citing their past substance abuse problems and defaults on their criminal records, Mr. Travers asked that bail for each suspect be increased to $25,000 cash.

Before lowering the bails, Judge Lemire noted that the primary purpose of bail was to ensure an accused person's appearance in court, and said he did not consider either Mr. Watt or Ms. Herne to be a flight risk.

As conditions of their release should they post bail, Mr. Watt and Ms. Herne were both placed on pretrial probation and ordered to submit to random urinalyses. Judge Lemire removed the GPS monitoring requirement that had been imposed by Judge Gardner.

The couple's cases have been continued to Dec. 10.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 11, 2008
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