Friday, Aug. 9, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
Lillian Meegan said the decision to burn the body of her infant daughter in a sandy Arizona gully was hers, although James Meegan carried out the grim task.
A shovel had been purchased to bury the remains of 11-month-old Francine Meegan, but in the end it was a fiery finale and not a shallow desert grave that was chosen by her parents.
Lillian Meegan testified at her husband's murder trial Thursday that "I believe in cremation."
In an unemotional story pockmarked by a plethora of memory gaps, the 35-year-old woman said, "I told Jim she had to be cremated, so that's what happened ... she got lit on fire."
When Deputy District Attorney Vickie Monroe held a picture of the baby's charred remains -- its arms outstretched to the skies -- and asked if that was the expected result, Lillian Meegan refused to look.
"If I wanted to look at your pictures, I would have asked to see the pictures," snapped the woman who has pleaded guilty to felony child neglect for her role in the death of Francine.
Lillian Meegan, who now has blamed the death of her daughter on the accidental ingestion of her husband's pain medication, was to return to the witness stand today in District Judge Sally Loehrer's courtroom.
Although she originally blamed her husband for Francine's death in a statement to police, her courtroom testimony was that he did nothing except try to save the child's life.
The incident in late 1990 began, she said, when the baby somehow got out of her playpen late one night and began playing with or eating James Meegan's pain pills that had been prescribed for injuries he suffered in an auto accident.
"Jim threw a pillow to knock the stuff out of her hand," Lillian Meegan testified. "I saw the pillow fly and saw her fall back. She must have hit her head on the stereo."
The witness, who had never told the story before, said pills were scattered on the floor and about an hour later the baby became drowsy and "wasn't completely there."
"The next morning she just wasn't right," she said, recalling that Francine's breathing slowed until it finally stopped.
She told the jury that she and James Meegan performed CPR for about 10 minutes, but never called for medical help.
"I was very upset and scared," she said.
Monroe asked if she was scared of the police.
"I had no reason to be scared of the police," Lillian Meegan replied.
She explained that while James and his brother, Pete, loaded the family into Pete Meegan's car, she dressed the lifeless baby warmly, put her into a suitcase and placed clothing on top of her as a cushion.
Lillian Meegan said she then drove her car to meet the others and begin the journey to an aunt's house in Black Canyon City, Ariz., near Prescott.
The next day, she and James Meegan left their remaining children with Pete Meegan, bought a shovel and embarked on a search "for a place to put Francine," she said.
Although chemical tests showed the baby was doused with gasoline before being set afire, Lillian Meegan said she has no memory about when or where the flamable fluid was obtained.
While her recollections during her first three hours on the witness stand were sketchy, prosecutors are expected to try to pin her to a specific story today in anticipation of contradictory testimony from other witnesses.
She also is going to be confronted with a statement blaming James Meegan for the death of their daughter that she gave as part of her plea bargain to Metro Police homicide detectives.
She already was confronted with her initial story to police in February when they knocked on her door and asked the whereabouts of the daughter she had given birth to five years before.
Lillian Meegan had responded that she had left Francine in her car while cashing a check at the Gold Coast and when she returned the baby was gone, the victim of a kidnapping.
She had explained that she didn't report the kidnapping because the family wanted to avoid police scrutiny.
"I don't like police and wasn't interested in talking to them at that point" was her explanation in court Thursday for the fabrication.
Lillian Meegan's story, true or not, is the only firsthand account of the baby's death the jury is likely to hear unless James Meegan chooses to take the witness stand when the defense presents its case.
Judge Loehrer indicated early in the testimony that she was having trouble believing the witness, who she must sentence next month and could slap with a 20-year prison term.
"The story is being made up out of whole cloth as she goes along, I believe," the judge commented during a hearing without the jury being present.
The only other witness to the early morning events was the couple's daughter, Maria, now 17.
But she testified that "I do not know how Francine died."
She was awakened early on that morning by her father who appeared "scared" and explained that Francine was having problems, she said.
The teenager saw her mother performing CPR on the baby, but knows nothing else and has never asked, she testified.
"I'm not one to ask questions," she told the jury bruskly, although she admitted she privately wondered about her sister's fate.
The girl's recollection of the struggle to save the baby's life raised tears in the eyes of James Meegan, whose prior courtroom emotions involved outbursts of anger and frustration.
"Did you love Francine?" Deputy District Attorney John Lukens asked Maria Meegan.
"I don't want to answer that," she replied firmly.
When the prosecutor pointedly asked if Lillian Meegan killed Francine, the teenager responded, "I don't think she's capable."
When Lukens repeated the question about James Meegan, the girl answered, "I don't see how any parent could be capable of killing their own child."
"Neither do we," Lukens commented.
While on the witness stand, Maria Meegan took a few preemptory swings at some of her friends, who are expected to testify that she told them her father had killed the baby.
She charged that they came forward only after casino mogul Bob Stupak offered a $100,000 reward for anyone who could help solve the mystery of Francine's death.
"I'm angry because my dad is being accused of something he hasn't done," Maria Meegan said under questioning by defense attorney Anthony Sgro.
Lillian Meegan's testimony taking responsibility for the decision to immolate the baby may complicate the state's attempts to seek the death penalty for James Meegan if he is convicted of first-degree murder.
The only "aggravating circumstance" alleged to justify the death penalty is mutilation by fire.