Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Baby Killer

"I Just Became Scared!"

Marybeth Tinning was indicted for the murder of only one of her children, Tami Lynne. Police and Schenectady County District Attorneys Office felt that was the single case in which they had the strongest evidence. Her admissions on February 4 to police investigators were crucial and would certainly be persuasive to any jury that heard them. In December 1986, pre-trial hearings took place in county court to determine the admissibility of those statements at a later trial. For the very first time, the public would hear Marybeth Tinning's explanation of what happened in her household where so many babies had died.

State Police Investigator Joseph Karas testified that Marybeth came to police headquarters voluntarily and was not under arrest at the time. "She said she'd talk but didn't want to sign anything," he said in court (Dec. 10, 1986, Albany Times Union). Karas stated that he read Miranda rights to Marybeth and she understood them. Another state police investigator told the court that after Marybeth confessed to killing three of her children, she seemed relieved that it was over. The stenographer who took Marybeth's statement on February 4, 1987, Margot Bernhardt, also testified that Marybeth was not forced to answer any questions and seemed to understand everything that was said to her. But the real drama came on December 16 when, for the first time, the world heard Marybeth's version of how eight of her children died, essentially in her arms, for no known medical reason.

"They were telling me what to say," she told the court, "A lot of time the police made a statement and then I just repeated it. These gentlemen were telling a story and I just repeated it" (Dec. 12, 1986, Knickerbocker News). She said that the police yelled and threatened her and any statements she may have made, were in response to that intimidation. "I was just tired," Marybeth offered, "I didn't want to go on. I knew what they were doing was wrong, but it would appear they had me in their clutches" (ibid). She said that she resisted the suggestions of the police for hours but finally broke down when they threatened to dig up the bodies of her children. "They said that if I did not tell the truth," she told the court, "they would take my kids out of their graves and rip them limb from limb!" The Albany Times Union reported that Marybeth "calmly responded to almost all of the questions...but she fought back tears when she testified about what she claimed was a police threat to unearth her children's bodies" (Dec. 16, 1986).

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