Monday, Aug. 19, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
On the day testimony began in the murder trial of James Meegan, his wife, Lillian, sat outside the courtroom with their teenage daughter snuggled in silent comfort in her mother's arms.
Maria Meegan, 17, was destined to be the prosecution's first witness, but her reluctant testimony didn't provide a smoking gun in the death of her 10-month-old sister, Francine.
She had seen her parents try to revive the baby with CPR but testified that she didn't know what brought the baby to that point. She sometimes wondered about her sister but never asked the question.
Prosecutors have charged that James Meegan shook his daughter to death in a fit of rage when she wouldn't stop crying. The Meegans then burned the body in Arizona.
The trial continues today with one more witness before closing arguments are made and the jury begins deliberations.
On Friday, Lillian was embracing her husband's family after all but severing ties with her own family, some of whom had testified against her husband. They had characterized him as a dominating spouse and father who would begin demands with the phrase, "If you want me to love you ... ."
But Lillian Meegan said the husband she knows is a loving person who always had helped her sisters and their families.
"James is my life," she said outside District Judge Sally Loehrer's courtroom. "My family is my life."
The "family" she was referring to is now limited to her five children, ranging from 5 to 17, that she knows likely will be without a parent in another month to watch over them.
She knows she didn't do herself any favors with her courtroom testimony last week -- offering a questionable version of her infant daughter's demise -- and is expecting Loehrer to imprison her next month at her sentencing on felony child abuse and neglect charges.
A home with James Meegan's mother in California already has been arranged for the children, although Lillian Meegan said her sister has been trying to seize custody for her side of the family.
"My children are the ones paying for this," she said.
Lillian Meegan followed Maria onto the witness stand last week to tell the jury her story of Francine's death six years ago and the years of keeping the secret from getting out.
Despite the efforts, the secret bubbled to the surface early this year and James Meegan, 39, was arrested on March 1.
In court, Lillian took responsibility for the decision to immolate the body, explaining that she insisted on it because of her belief in cremation.
She also told a story in court about Francine's death that she had never told before.
She said the baby may have been the inadvertent victim of a pain killer overdose or accidentally injured when James Meegan threw a pillow at the baby to dislodge her grip on the pills and she tumbled into a stereo.
But there were numerous memory gaps that cast her testimony into question and her surly and antagonistic attitude didn't help.
However, there is no doubt in the mind of the woman who seems to have turned loyalty into a religion.
"My husband's innocent and I'm innocent," she told the SUN. "I think it's a bunch of s---. If these jurors convict him, they're the ones who should be convicted."
She conceded that they "made mistakes" in their decisions about Francine's death but continued to sidestep direct questions, as she had done in court.
When asked about the decision to burn the baby's body, she answered tersely, "That is in my blood."
"It could have been done differently but when somebody is in that situation, nobody knows what to do," she said.
She admitted their choice "looked unusual, if not suspicious."
James Meegan's mother, Alfreda Meegan, said the prosecution of her son and daughter-in-law has made her family stronger.
"We're not pulled apart, just hurt," she said as she sat outside the courtroom as one of the five generations of Meegans who were there to support the defendant.
"We're a very strong family, we're all together," she said. "I'll stand behind Jimmy and Lillian all the way. The whole family will."
Alfreda Meegan's testimony showed the same unquestioning loyalty that Lillian Meegan exhibited.
She testified that although she knew Francine had been born, she never saw the infant and only once asked Lillian Meegan about her whereabouts.
On that occasion, she said, the baby's mother just shrugged. Alfreda Meegan said she didn't pursue the issue.