Lynn Maxwell offered at least three reasons for having locks on the outside of stepdaughter Erin Maxwell’s door.
Lynn Maxwell took the witness stand after the prosecution rested its case of more than 20 hours of testimony alleging that Lynn and husband Lindsey Maxwell endangered 11 year old Erin’s life by keeping her in a home with widespread cat feces and a thick odor of cat urine and by keeping her in a room with locks on the outside of the two doors.
Erin Maxwell died August 29, 2008.Ã‚Â Police have charged stepbrother Alan Jones with sexually assaulting and killing her.Ã‚Â Lynn and Lindsey Maxwell are not accused in Erin’s death.
There were two doors to Erin’s bedroom — a half-door with a sliding lock on it and a screen door with two hook-and-eye latches and an automatically-locking gate latch. Lynn Maxwell said at one point that the locks were intended to keep Erin out of Lynn’s jewelry, which Lynn said Erin took to school and gave to classmates.Ã‚Â She said that Erin was also getting into household chemicals, using Soft Scrub to try to make her hair more blonde in one instance and using bleach to make a chemical with a dangerous gas in another incident.
But Lynn Maxwell also said that in fastening the automatic gate latch to the door, they put cardboard behind it so that it would not close tightly, and that Erin knew how to open all of the locks on her own. “She did it every morning when I got up,” Lynn Maxwell said.Ã‚Â “She used her fingers.”
Lynn Maxwell noted two other reasons for the locks — to give Erin her privacy and to keep some of the home’s more than 60 cats out of Erin’s bedroom.
Lynn Maxwell’s testimony directly contradicted one of the prosecution’s witnesses, Donald Crowe, who testified that he was at the Maxwell home for a bonfire on August 15.Ã‚Â He couldn’t have been, said Lynn Maxwell, because that was his softball league night.
Crowe went into the home briefly to get a flashlight.Ã‚Â His testimony was used to back up others who said there was an overpowering smell of cat urine in the home.
The six-person jury and two alternates heard some of Lynn Maxwell’s biography.Ã‚Â She’s 53 and a Licensed Practical Nurse, or, she was until she said she was fired from the Manor at Seneca Hill for “negative publicity” after Erin’s death.Ã‚Â She married Lindsey in 2002. It was her second marriage.Ã‚Â She said that at the time of Erin’s death, she was depressed from the death of her mother the month before.Ã‚Â She said she didn’t have much contact with the rest of her family and her mother was the “last link”.
They heard why she took in so many cats.Ã‚Â She said it began with one cat, which she took from her daughter-in-law when she moved into an apartment that would not allow cats.Ã‚Â The cat was pregnant.Ã‚Â Soon, people began dropping off cats at the home. “I didn’t go out looking for strays,” she said.
Lynn Maxwell said 9 cats had the run of the house.Ã‚Â 60 others were kept in the master bedroom.Ã‚Â She said she never considered putting them to sleep, but, according to Oswego County SPCA Treasurer Hillary McIntyre, who testified earlier in the evening, not a single cat taken from the home had ever been spayed or neutered.
Maxwell’s assessment of “a maximum of 70 cats” clashes with McIntyre’s assessment of how many cats were taken from the home and property.
McIntyre said 63 live cats were taken from the home on August 31, with another 63 cats trapped and removed from September to early October.Ã‚Â 20 dead kittens were found in the freezer of the home, wrapped in grocery bags for later burial. McIntyre’s numbers clash with the State Police receipt given to her on August 31, which said 43 live cats had been taken from the home.
McIntyre maintained 63 live cats were taken on August 31 and said the organization’s own records backed that up.Ã‚Â She was not asked to bring the records to court.
Lynn Maxwell gave the jury a tour of her home and grounds as she narrated a 20-minute State Police evidence video taken at the home on August 31.Ã‚Â She said bags of garbage on the porch were waiting to go to the dump, the home was cluttered because she didn’t have enough cabinet space, that the kitten bodies in the freezer were separated from any food and would have been buried together by Lindsey Maxwell eventually, that she saw no cat feces in several of the rooms videotaped, and that what appared to be an uncut yard full of weeds was a yard full of herbs such as mint, Oswego tea, burdock and chicory which she would use for food, medicines or to feed the chickens.
The video showed State Police investigators trying to remove the cats.Ã‚Â The investigtors wore full-body protective suits, as they testified, but defense lawyer Sal Lanza pointed out that they were not wearing the gas masks they had earlier testified to having worn.Ã‚Â Instead, for at least the time the tape was being made, they wore simple masks over their mouths and noses.Ã‚Â McIntyre testified that she saw troopers wearing full gas masks, the two-chambered kind that you’d see car body painters wear.
She said she did not smell the odor of cat urine in her home.
McIntyre told the jury about the extraordinary effort to get the cats out of the home and off the property.Ã‚Â “We called in the troops,” she said of getting the initial call from State Police.Ã‚Â Troopers handed the cats out to them in cat carriers.Ã‚Â The 6 SPCA volunteers would then put the cats in shade and give them food and water.
“Most cats had fleas and subsequent skin conditions,” she said.
McIntyre noted that she went into the home at one point and, with another volunteer, got locked into Erin’s bedroom by accident.Ã‚Â She said she used pencils poked through a gap in the chicken wire of the door to spring the gate latch open.Ã‚Â “Took us a while,” she testified.Ã‚Â “Probably 15, 20 minutes.”
“But that was your first try,” Lanza said to McIntyre later during cross-examination.
Also testifying was Joe Fiumara, Palermo’s Code Enforcement Officer.Ã‚Â He said there had never been a complaint about the Maxwell home and that he hadn’t inspected it since the Maxwells moved in.
He said he smelled the cat urine odor along with “overripened garbage”.Ã‚Â He described seeing “many piles of cat feces” and “quite and enormous amount” of debris in the home.Ã‚Â Fiumara said he looked at his shirt at one point and noticed “hundreds, if not thousands, of fleas jumping on my shirt.”
He declared the home unfit for occupation under a state statute because of the debris, feces and infestation.
Judge Robert Wood denied defense motions to dismiss the case.Ã‚Â Such motions are made routinely after the end of the prosecution’s case.
Lynn Maxwell resumes her testimony at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday in Palermo Town Court