'Indescribable pain': Mom opens up about the night 'Baby Joey died

News-DemocratMay 15, 2014 

Cathie Melville has never spoken publicly about the night her infant son died, but after the case against the man accused of murdering her son was dismissed on Wednesday, she decided it was time.

On Dec. 29, 1972, Melville was a 19-year-old divorced mother, living alone in a Washington Park trailer, working at a Belleville restaurant to support her 1-year-old son, "Baby Joey" Abernathy.

"He was my everything, my whole world," Melville said on Thursday.

A few months earlier, she had started dating 21-year-old Gary Warwick after they were introduced by mutual friends at a dinner party.

"After that, he just sort of latched on to me," Melville said of Warwick, who could not be reached for comment.

Baby Joey was most often cared for by Melville's mother, Barbara Altman, or her sister, but Warwick offered to fill in the gaps, Melville said.

Soon after he started baby-sitting the infant, Melville began noticing little injuries, a bruised finger, a black eye, a bruised ear. Joey's hair was falling out. She took the baby to the doctor.

"I was so naive. I never realized that all the injuries happened while (Warwick) had Joey," Melville said. "I wanted answers. I went to the doctor. I don't remember what he told me, but later when I looked at the chart it said, 'Doctor does not care to be involved in the case.'"

Melville took the child home.

Melville continued to allow Warwick to care for Joey. On Dec. 29, 1972, Warwick picked Melville up from work with Joey in the backseat. Joey's big toe was injured.

Warwick told Melville that he accidentally stepped on it, Melville said.

"I noticed something just seemed wrong," Melville said.

Melville said she told Warwick that she was going to put Joey in daycare for more consistent and dependable care. The two argued.

When she got back to the trailer at 1222 Freeman St. near Washington Park, she fed Joey, snuggled with him, bathed him, put him in pajamas and put him to bed. It was around 8:30 p.m., she said.

Warwick was watching a movie and asked to stay to watch the rest, Melville said. She agreed and went to bed.

"I remembered that it was raining that night and I prayed to God that it wouldn't freeze so he wouldn't have to stay," Melville said.

About 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 30, 1972, Warwick came into Melville's bedroom, holding Baby Joey wrapped in a blanket, Melville said. He told Melville he heard a sound and went back to check on the baby and found him on the floor, Melville said.

"I kept telling him to give Joey to me, but he wouldn't," Melville said. "He wouldn't let me touch him."

Warwick called an ambulance, then Melville called her mother, who lived five minutes away. Altman arrived and met Warwick at the door, according to a police report. He told her that Joey had died.

In police reports, Altman, who died in 2012, told a detective that Joey bruised easily, but until about a month before his death, Joey had been in good health.

"He was a happy, healthy baby," Melville said.

After Joey's death, Melville suffered a nervous breakdown, but was released from the hospital into Warwick's care. She refused to testify at the coroner's inquest, but, eventually came to believe that Warwick killed Joey.

He was charged in April 1973, but the charge was dismissed a year later without explanation.

Warwick moved to Indiana, married, started a family and a business and coached softball. Melville married, became a nurse and had other children.

In 2012, one of those children, Beth Stauffer, made a video about her half brother's death and posted it to YouTube. The video helped revived the case and Warwick was charged once again.

But the case was dismissed Wednesday when a judge found Warwick's constitutional rights were violated by the unexplained delay in proceeding to trial and dismissed the case.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said Thursday that he hasn't decided whether he would file an appeal. He declined further comment. Jim Gomric, Warwick's attorney, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Melville wanted a jury to decide whether he was responsible for the death of her son, she said, and to testify for her baby boy.

"It's an indescribable pain. And it goes on and on," Melville said. "For a second time, this case has been dismissed. For a second time, Joey has been denied a chance a justice."

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 618-239-2570.

Timeline of the Baby Joey case

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