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Witnesses Describe Maxwell Home, Erin’s Last Days

The firefighter who tried to save Erin Maxwell’s life described a home so foul that she ran outside and threw up, then went home and asked her husband to burn her clothes.

Debra Denery, president of the Palermo Fire Department, was the key witness on Saturday in the trial of Lynn and Lindsey Maxwell, Erin’s parents, who are not charged in Erin’s death but with misdemeanor counts of child endangerment for the conditions of the house Erin lived in.  Erin’s step-brother, Alan Jones, will be tried in September for what police say was Erin’s sexual assault and murder.

The charges relate to two things:  cat urine and feces in the home, from what the prosecutor alleges is more than 120 cats; and Erin’s ability to get out of her bedroom, which had a half-door with a lock on it and a kind of screen door with an automatic lock on it.

Denery, a 20 year firefighter, gasped for air as she entered the Maxwell farmhouse. “It was definitely a cat urine smell,” she said.

Denery found Erin Maxwell in her bedroom at the foot of her bed.  She put her arm on the bed and noticed the bedsheets.  Photos introduced earlier in the trial showed a white bedsheet nearly covered in brown stains. “It was absolutely disgusting,” she said.  She noticed feces on the floor.

When ambulance workers took Erin from the home, Denery said she went outside and threw up three times.  Back at the fire station, she removed her work gear and discovered “hundreds” of bites on her body.  At home, she asked her husband to burn her clothes because of the urine odor.  She had worn flip-flops that day and discovered feces between her toes.

Denery said she’s still being treated for the bite marks nearly a year after Erin’s death.  She showed the jury the purplish blotches, some of which were about the size of a half dollar while others were palm-sized.

She is the only person to have testified about bug bites.  Other visitors to the home said they did not appear to have been bitten.

Under cross examination from defense lawyer Sal Lanza, Denery said she occasionally posted comments to a website called “Justice For Erin”, under the username FFEMT, for “Fire Fighter, EMT”.

Two occasional visitors to the Maxwell home backed up the contention that the cat urine odor was so strong, they didn’t want to go into the home.

Rebecca Belrad, Lynn Maxwell’s daughter-in-law and former co-worker at The Manor at Seneca Hill nursing home, said the odor was “overwhelming”.  She usually went to the home only in the summer, when they could sit outside.  Donald Crowe, a friend of Belrad’s husband, said there was a “strong” urine odor in the home.

Both attended a bonfire at the Maxwell home two weeks before Erin’s death.  Both said they had had a couple of drinks but were not drunk.

Belrad went into the home to use the bathroom and saw Erin in her room, behind her locked doors.  They talked, but Belrad kept it short because she wanted to get out of the house.

Back outside, Belrad said she asked Lynn Maxwell about Erin.  She said Lynn told her Erin ate meals in her room, that Lynn couldn’t deal with Erin any more because Erin stole some of her jewelry to give to kids at school and had been caught about to put cleaning chemicals in her hair.  Belrad said Lynn Maxwell referred to Erin as “that f—ing kid.”  Lanza tried to object to that, but was overruled.

She said Lynn or Lindsey told her that Erin could get out of her room if she needed to, in spite of the locks.

Belrad, as a nurse, is legally obligated to report signs of abuse.  Under Lanza’s cross-examination, she said she did not report Erin’s condition to the state.

She estimated there were 75-100 cats in the home.

The rest of the day was given over to State Police investigators who interviewed the Lindseys for the investigation into Erin’s death and who came to believe that they should be charged with child endangerment.

Inv. Terry Bauer added a few details to the final hours of Erin Maxwell’s life.  She had hot dogs for breakfast and ramen noodles with butter for lunch.  Lynn and Lindsey drove that afternoon to Wal-mart to buy a mattress to replace the waterbed that had sprung a leak and emptied.  They told Alan Jones to feed Erin at 6 and put her to bed.  Erin always ate in her room; everyone else ate in the living room.

Bauer and the other State Police personnel all maintained that the Maxwells were not read their Miranda rights against incriminating themselves in a crime because the investigation was into Erin’s death and they were never suspects in that death.

Bauer said Lindsey explained the locks on Erin’s door by saying they were trying to keep cats out of her room.

Inv. Mike Dolly read Lindsey his rights on September 11, 2008, about than two weeks after Erin’s death.  In the statement that followed, Lindsey said that he and his wife were “pretty messy housekeepers” and “not the neatest people in the world”.  He said Erin had had problems at school because of the smell of her clothes and because she had been found rooting around in dumpsters for other students’ discarded desserts and snacks, which the Maxwells could not afford.

Lynn Maxwell told Inv. Tim Kelly that Erin could have just pushed on what she called “the gate” if she had wanted to get out of her room.

The trial resumes Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. in Palermo Town Court.