A woman accused of severing her baby’s arms with a kitchen knife slumped forward and stared at her hands as prosecutors played jurors the recording of her emergency dispatch tape.
On the tape played Monday during her capital murder trial, Dena Schlosser could be heard calmly answering 911 operator Steve Edwards’ questions.
“Exactly what happened?” Edwards asked.
“I cut her arms off,” Schlosser replied blankly as the gospel song “He Touched Me” played in the background.
“You cut her arms off?”
Edwards testified that he thought she must be exaggerating the emergency, though he still dispatched police and paramedics.
The trial of Schlosser, 37, hinges on whether she knew right from wrong in the November 2004 death of her baby Margaret.
The defense has entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, while the prosecution argues that the Plano housewife knew what she was doing.
Testimony on the first day of the trial provided grisly details of authorities’ discovery of Margaret bleeding in her crib as well as a glimpse into the family’s troubled home life and their devotion to a charismatic church.
The prosecution’s case was to continue Tuesday.
Police found Schlosser in the living room, covered in blood, still holding a knife and listening to the church hymn.
Defense Attorney William Schultz has said Schlosser was suffering from post-partum psychosis that caused her to snap suddenly on several occasions, screaming, growling and hissing at people, in the months before Margaret’s death.
“She didn’t see it coming,” he said. “Normally Dena is a sweet woman. She cares, she has compassion.”
Prosecutor Curtis Howard has said that while Schlosser had mental problems she did know right from wrong when she killed her daughter.
“She goes to the stove and takes out the biggest blade she has in the apartment,” he said. “At some point that morning, Dena Schlosser put Maggie Schlosser down on the bed and cut,” he said.
Howard and several witnesses graphically detailed the attack on the baby, showing photos of the bloody crib and describing the baby’s dismembered arms lying beside her body. A few jurors grimaced and looked uncomfortable.
Police and rescuers who responded to the scene and arrested Schlosser testified about her unusual behavior.
Officer David Tilley, who arrived first, said Schlosser answered questions about herself but not about Maggie. When he asked her why she cut off the baby’s arms, Schlosser replied, “I felt like I had to,” but would not say anymore, Tilley told the court.
“Randomly she would just smile,” he said. “Every now and then she would say, ‘Thank you, God,’ and ‘Praise God.'”
After her arrest, Schlosser was diagnosed with manic depression. In February 2005, a jury deliberated only a few minutes before deciding Schlosser was mentally incompetent to stand trial and she was committed to North Texas State Hospital in Vernon. But in May, a judge decided Schlosser was competent.
Schultz has said Schlosser’s problems started in her childhood, when she had surgery to drain excess fluid from her brain.
“You don’t drill holes into the skull and put tubes in and tubes out and not have any problems,” he said. “The evidence will show she has been sick a long time.”
Schultz said another contributing factor was Schlosser’s almost daily attendance of a church that preached that women were possessed by wicked Jezebel spirits.
“This is not a church desirable for someone having mental problems,” he said.
But prosecutors said Schlosser unraveled in part because of growing financial problems after her husband, John, lost his job and banks foreclosed on the family home. Maggie was an unplanned pregnancy that added financial strain, Howard said.
Howard urged jurors to remember that while the defense will present doctors to attest to Schlosser’s mental illness, the jury will have to make the legal determination of whether she knew right from wrong.