Witness says suspect did Web search on drownings
September 19, 2013 10:30 AM

PITTSBURGH — A West Virginia woman on trial for allegedly drowning her 2-year-old son in a suburban Pittsburgh hotel bathtub performed several Web searches in the days before the incident that pertained to child drowning and the Casey Anthony murder case.

An Allegheny County detective testified Wednesday about the searches Sharon Flanagan, 34, made on her home computer in Inwood, W.Va., from June 26-30, 2012 — the five-day stretch before her son, Steven, was found unresponsive in the tub July 1, 2012.

He died five days later in a Pittsburgh hospital.

Flanagan is on trial on charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment in the boy’s death.

Defense attorney Blaine Jones maintains the boy’s drowning was an accident, but Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini is seeking a conviction for first-degree — or premeditated — murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence. Pellegrini contends Flanagan killed the boy to get back at her husband during a bitter divorce because she was unhappy that her husband had been granted 70 percent custody.

That’s why Pellegrini had county homicide Detective Michael Feeney testify Wednesday about Web searches Flanagan did on her home computer for subjects like “common fatal toddler accidents,” “why is Casey Anthony so popular?” and “why are Americans obsessed with Casey Anthony?”

Anthony is the Orlando, Fla., woman acquitted in July 2011 of charges she killed her 2-year-old daughter after the girl’s remains were found in a trash bag. Anthony’s defense claimed the girl, instead, accidentally drowned in a family swimming pool.

On cross-examination, Jones got Feeney to acknowledge that, based on the computer records, the Casey Anthony searches all lasted about a minute or less, suggesting there was hardly time for Flanagan to glean any detailed information from them.

But Feeney noted Flanagan also learned that drowning was the second-most-common cause of toddler deaths — ranking behind vehicle accidents — and that Flanagan also did apparently related searches on an American Red Cross site about first aid, CPR and death by suffocation.

Feeney interviewed Flanagan at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh the night her son was pulled from the tub, and again the next day, and she couldn’t explain how the boy drowned. In the first statement she said he got stuck in the tub, but couldn’t explain how.

In the second statement, which led police to arrest her, Flanagan told police she was holding the boy by his left arm and leg, beneath the surface of the water but not on the bottom of the tub, trying to pull him out.

Feeney said Flanagan told him “there was some kind of force pulling him to the bottom” but noted “she could not articulate in any words what was holding Baby Steven down.”

Flanagan told police she made the three-hour, 200-mile drive to Pittsburgh so she could take her son to a nearby waterpark. After arriving at the hotel about 6 p.m., she decided to let the boy “swim” in the room’s bathtub after he tired of watching cartoons. She cried openly when Pellegrini showed pictures, taken from Flanagan’s seized camera, showing the boy playing in the tub at his home and in a wading pool earlier that year.

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