State rests; Defense calls witnesses in Pryce trial

Staff Writer

The prosecution called its final witnesses Monday afternoon in the Brittney Pryce trial, Nebraska State Patrol Investigator Michael Dowling and an investigator for the office of the Nebraska Attorney General Kerry Crosby.

Dowling testified about his interviews with Pryce. The video and audio of his first interview with Pryce on Nov. 25 2013 were played for the court. The audio on the tape was difficult to understand at times however, at the end of the taped interview, Pryce sounded emotional to which Dowlling was heard to tell her that she wasn’t really crying.

Several photos of the Pryce home taken by Dowling were shown to the court, including the claw foot bath tub where the defense has maintained that Noah fell Friday, Nov. 15. In a statement provided to officials in November, Pryce said Noah hit his head in the bathtub. However, during the taped interview with Dowling, she is heard to say that she didn’t know if he hit his head. “I don’t know how hard I grabbed him. I don’t where I grabbed him,” she said during the interview, saying that as she was rinsing away soap, he slipped backwards. “I pulled him out of the tub. The worst thing was he was going to drown. He cried a little bit. I comforted him…I couldn’t see anything.”

Dowling interviewed Pryce at least three times during the course of his investigation from Nov., 2013, to March, 2014, when she was arrested. He said that each time it was “basically the same information I was given.”

When asked what he learned from asking Pryce about Noah’s behavior before he was later found with difficulty breathing Sunday afternoon Nov. 17, Dowling said “She indicated to me that his behavior was normal.” He testified that Pryce said Noah had ate half a pop-tart and drank some milk, then spit up the milk which was what would happen if he drank his milk too fast.

As to why Pryce didn’t accompany Noah when the child was taken to Good Samaritan in Kearney, Dowling testified “She indicated to me she was have contractions at the time…she didn’t attend to Noah Pryce who had been injured. She was thinking of herself.”

Dowling testified that he also interviewed Diane Hill, Pryce’s mother, who was arrested at the same time as Pryce but against whom the charges were later dropped. Dowling testified that Hill told him that she wanted to speak with him early in the process but had been advised by legal council not to. Hill was the first witness called to testify for the prosecution.

Search warrants issued for the Pryce home garners a Greco Pack and Play (play pen), a blue Mainstay tub, a wooden rocking horse and a 1x1 foot sample of carpet and padding from the living room.

During testimony from Crosby, the court was presented with items that were numbered exhibits 94, 95 and 96, an Interactive Sea Life Learning Toy and two spiral notebooks in which Pryce kept records of Noah and Dallas (his younger brother) both in Pryce’s foster care. The toy was presented into evidence as part of discussions that Noah and James Pryce, Brittney’s and R.J’s son, the same age as Noah by three days, would get into fights and hit each other with toys.

The prosecution rested at 3:40 p.m.

Defense attorney Potter made two motions, each one to dismiss the case, the first for the court denying a change of venue and the other to dismiss the case as the state had failed to provide burden of proof. District Court Judge Karin Noakes overruled both motions.

The defense then called two witnesses to the stand before the trial was recessed for the day. Defense attorney Stephen Potter called Lisa Dugan, family support worker, and R.J. Pryce, Pryce’s husband.

Dugan testified that she knows Brittney Price as a family support worker and that she has worked with Pryce for several months on parenting skills. “She was doing fairly well when I started,” Dugan said. She testified that she has seen no inappropriate behavior from Brittney towards the children and when asked by Potter if she would describe Pryce as a good mom, Dugan answered “Absolutely.”

Dugan has been part of supervised visits when Pryce visits her children, James and Jacob, four and two years respectively, after the children were removed from her. Jacob was born December, 2013. The children live with their father, R.J. Pryce who is helped with caregiving by family and friends.

When asked if Pryce’s parenting skills have advanced to the point where she felt she was no longer needed for supervised visits, Dugan answered “That’s correct.” Before Dugan left the stand, Potter asked if she would have any concerns with Pryce being along with Dugan’s own children or grandchildren both questions to which Dugan answered “No, I would not.”

When questioned by Assistant Attorney General Michael Guinan, Dugan admitted that she did not know where Pryce’s parenting skill set was at in November, 2013.

The defense then called R.J. Pryce to the stand. He testified about his job history and is a currently city police officer for Burwell and a Garden County Deputy. He testified about meeting Pryce in 2010 and they were married in December, 2011. He described their relationship as normal. “We had regular couple disagreements…never arguments…never in front of the kids,” he said. R.J. Pryce told of how they became foster parents to Noah and Dallas, who are his nephews. He was asked to recount the days of leading up to the day Noah was taken to the hospital. In part of his testimony he said he received a phone call from Brittney on Friday, Nov. 15 telling him that Noah hit his head in the bathtub. He told her to keep Noah awake until he got home to check him out. He said he got home about “7:15, 7:45” and he checked on Noah who was still up and around. “He wasn’t fuzzy, his eyes looked okay,” he said. Upon cross examination, prosecutor William Tangeman challenged R.J. Pryce’s testimony and had him read from one of the notebooks kept by Pryce that she had put Noah to bed at 7 p.m. that evening.

Judge Noakes recessed the trial at a few minutes after 5 p.m. with instructions to the jury to prepare for being requested as early as Tuesday.

The trial resumes 9 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30 with the state continuing the cross examination of R.J. Pryce.

Brittney Pryce, 26, faces twenty years to life if she is found guilty of the one count she faces, Child Abuse leading to the death of a child.