Hillary Tyler’s fate is in the hands of a Webster County jury that will resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Monday. But how and why is a 32-year-old woman from Oklahoma facing a first-degree murder charge in Fort Dodge?
WHO: Hillary Tyler, 32, Mulhall, Okla; charged with first-degree murder in the death of her newborn baby boy. She allegedly drowned the baby in a Fort Dodge Super 8 motel room.
WHY SHE WAS IN FORT DODGE: Tyler was working for Industrial Inspection and Consulting in a data entry position. It was a temporary position as Tyler was only expected to be in town for just under a month. She was living with Rodney Cyphers, the baby’s father, in a fifth-wheel trailer in Coalville.
WHAT SHE SAID: Tyler did not take the stand during her trial. However, in a videotaped interview with Division of Criminal Investigation agents, she initially said her baby didn’t cry or move after she gave birth to him while standing up in a Super 8 bathroom. Later on in the interview, Tyler told the DCI agent that the baby did cry and did move. She told the agent that when the baby cried, she got scared and put him face-down in the bathtub before turning on the water. Tyler said she let the water get about two inches high before leaving the bathroom for over an hour and coming back. She said she wrapped up the baby in a towel and placed him in a motel wastebasket. She said she also cut off the umbilical cord with a pair of scissors and delivered her placenta in the fifth-wheel, where she threw it away in a trash can. Tyler told investigators she believed she was only six months pregnant, and hadn’t told anyone about her pregnancy, though she acknowledged that many people, including friends and family, had asked her if she was. She had believed that Cyphers didn’t want children, and wasn’t sure how he would react if she told him she was pregnant. She made the same statements to investigators during a second interview from a hospital bed, which was audio recorded. Tyler revealed she considered terminating the pregnancy, but wasn’t sure if she was able to. She also asked investigators to call Cyphers and “tell him I’m sorry.”
WHO: Rodney Cyphers, 31, Mulhall, Okla; the baby’s father.
WHY HE WAS IN FORT DODGE: Cyphers worked for Industrial Inspection and Consulting, where one of his responsibilities was inspecting equipment at Koch Nitrogen. He testified that he and Tyler arrived in Fort Dodge in late August for an inspection of the local plant. Cyphers worked overnight hours because the plant needed to be shut down while the inspection was conducted. He said he rarely saw Tyler while they were in town together, and most of their interactions were quick conversations at shift change, as Tyler worked the day shift.
WHAT HE SAID: He asked Tyler if she was pregnant, but she told him her weight gain was due to polyps and “female issues” that she had experienced before. On Sept. 19, 2011, Cyphers said Tyler texted him saying she was going to a clinic in Ames to have her polyps removed and that she would return later in the afternoon. He offered to come with her, but she declined, saying she could handle it on her own. At one point, Tyler sent Cyphers a text that told him he would be “getting his skinny girlfriend back hopefully.” When Tyler did come back to the fifth-wheel, Cyphers described her as “pale” and needing help to get into the trailer. The couple spent the morning of Sept. 20 getting breakfast and doing laundry before going back to the trailer while Cyphers took a nap. He woke up after hearing a knock on the door, and when Tyler hadn’t come back after awhile, he went to see what happened. Cyphers said there were three men with badges outside. One of them, a DCI agent, told Cyphers that Tyler had a baby in a hotel room and that it was no longer alive. Cyphers said he was surprised and confused. Though he wasn’t anticipating a child, Cyphers told the jury if he’d known Tyler was pregnant, “we would have gone to the doctor and done the things you do to become parents.” Cyphers also said he had a brief phone conversation with Tyler after her police interview, where she admitted to him that she had drowned the baby after he cried.
WHO: Dr. Dan Cole, Webster County medical examiner.
WHAT HE SAID: Cole was responsible for transporting Baby Tyler to the state medical examiner’s office, as well as examining Hillary Tyler while she was at Trinity Regional Medical Center. At the motel room, Cole removed the baby’s body from the wastebasket and placed him on a bed. He took several photos of the child before placing the body in a cooler filled with ice. He testified that this was to slow decomposition, which cannot be stopped completely. He said this explained an area of discoloration on the baby’s thigh that was seen at the state medical examiner’s office, but not in the motel room. Cole also examined Tyler’s placenta, which he described as healthy and said there was no scarring on it. Cole said it’s possible microscopic bacteria could have been present on the placenta, but said he didn’t know because he didn’t look at it under a microscope. Regarding Tyler, he said she was suffering from low levels of hemoglobin as well as a vaginal tear that was the result of giving birth. He said birth is a stressful process and this suggests Tyler may have been stressed when delivering Baby Tyler. He also described her as having pre-eclampsia, which could possibly have caused her to “become hypersensitive, suffered from headaches and swelling.” He added this condition is “cured” by giving birth. Despite her condition, Cole said Tyler was alert and knew exactly where she was when he examined her. Cole did not issue an opinion regarding cause and manner of death, as he wasn’t the one who performed the autopsy.
WHO: Dr. Jonathan Thompson, associate state medical examiner
WHAT HE SAID: Thompson performed Baby Tyler’s autopsy and ruled that he died as a homicide caused by drowning. He determined that in part because of Tyler’s interview with DCI agents where she said she drowned the baby after he cried and moved. He also stated that, without Tyler’s interview, he can’t determine how or why the baby died, as there wasn’t anything conclusive about the autopsy. Thompson described police interviews as “vital in determining the manner and cause of death.” He discovered fluid in the baby’s trachea, which he said was part amniotic fluid and part water. However, he couldn’t tell if the water was part of the amniotic fluid or if it came from breathing in bathwater. Thompson said he believed the baby took a breath because parts of his lungs were expanded while parts of them were collapsed. At the same time, he said he couldn’t rule out the possibility of sudden infant death syndrome or the possibility that bacteria within the placenta caused the baby’s death. He also said it was “certainly possible” the child died before being placed in the bathtub.
WHO: Dr. Janice Ophoven, pediatric forensic pathologist.
WHAT SHE SAID: Ophoven, who works in a private practice as a consultant who reviews medical reports, was asked by the defense to take a second look at Thompson’s autopsy report. After conducting her own examination of the report, she ruled the baby’s cause and manner of death to be undetermined. Ophoven said she didn’t take Tyler’s interview with police into consideration because she didn’t consider her a credible witness, due to the fact she was giving birth. She believed it was likely Baby Tyler died stillborn. She described a discoloration on his right thigh as “maceration,” a form of skin slippage that only occurs while the baby is inside the uterus. However, she also could not say she was absolutely certain the baby died stillborn, but felt that was the most likely cause of death. This testimony directly contradicted what both Cole and Thompson had testified to. Ophoven also didn’t believe Baby Tyler had drowned, because she didn’t find evidence of a “cone of foam” around the baby’s mouth.
She also didn’t agree with Thompson’s analysis of the baby’s lungs, instead saying the fact only some parts were expanded proved the baby gasped. She said this supports the theory the baby was stillborn.
Ophoven was the only one of the three doctors who did not physically examine Baby Tyler.
WHO: The law enforcement officers (Sgt. Mike Halligan, Webster County Sheriff’s Department; DCI Special Agent Ray Fiedler; DCI Special Agent Jim Thiele; DCI Special Agent Mike Roehrkasse; DCI Special Agent in Charge Larry Hedlund).
WHAT THEY SAID: Halligan was the investigator who found the body of Baby Tyler in the motel room’s wastebasket. He said the baby was clean, appeared to be full term and was wrapped in a wet, bloody towel. Fiedler said the towels were so wet they needed to be hung up on a clothes line in order to dry them. Thiele searched the fifth-wheel trailer where Tyler had been living, and said investigators took a T-shirt, laptop computer and a pair of black-handled scissors. He also testified investigators found the placenta in the trailer’s trash can, which was transported to Ankeny along with the baby’s body. Roehrkasse was the agent who questioned Tyler about finding the baby’s body in the room. He repeatedly asked Tyler if she wanted to see a doctor, but she repeatedly declined. Roehrkasse was the agent interviewing Tyler when she said she drowned the baby after he started crying. He also accompanied Hedlund to Trinity Regional Medical Center to ask follow-up questions to Tyler, though Hedlund was the one who did most of the questioning. Hedlund said Tyler described how deep the water was in the bathtub.