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Father planned baby's death before its birth

IN A TALE befitting a Shakespearean tragedy, an Indiana man appeared in court yesterday to face charges that he killed his own seven-month- old baby in a meticulously planned act of revenge against his wife.

According to a police affidavit, Ronald Shanabarger murdered his cherub- faced son,Tyler, on 20 June - Father's Day - to punish his wife Amy for refusing to cut short a cruise they took in October 1996 when they learned that Ronald's father had unexpectedly died.

"Shanabarger said he planned to make Amy feel the way he did when his father died," the affidavit stated. He thus married her in May of 1997, made her pregnant and allowed the son to live until he was seven months old, to ensure that mother and child bonded, before murdering him.

At first, a coroner in Franklin, a suburb of Indianapolis, found that Tyler had died in his cot of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or Sids. Mr Shanabarger then confessed, first to Amy herself and then on three different occasions to officers in the local police station. He asked the officers to shoot him.

"It's the most bizarre case that I've ever had any dealings with and probably the most bizarre case I've ever heard of," said Lance Hamner, the local prosecutor. No decision has yet been taken on whether the death penalty will be sought. Harry Furrer, the local police chief, added: "This is a father's own flesh and blood. I just can't comprehend it."

Mr Shanabarger, 30, allegedly told police that he applied plastic wrap to the child's mouth as he lay sleeping in his cot on the evening of Father's Day. He left the room to eat something and brush his teeth then returned to make sure that the baby had suffocated.

Amy Shanabarger, 29, later returned home from her job as a supermarket cashier. She apparently assumed that her baby was sleeping and went to bed. She only discovered that he had died on the Monday morning.

"He was a beautiful boy," remarked the Rev Randy Maynard, a police chaplain who had visited the Shanabarger house when Sids was still thought to have been the cause of death. He noticed even then that the husband was not consoling his distraught young wife. "Even in death, he was just the most beautiful boy. I'm still getting goose bumps."