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Douglas and Sonja Glynn, parents of a poisoned 4-month-old son, commiserated after he testified in the trial of Constantine Pitsas at Essex Superior Court in Lawrence. Pitsas is accused of involuntary manslaughter.
Douglas and Sonja Glynn, parents of a poisoned 4-month-old son, commiserated after he testified in the trial of Constantine Pitsas at Essex Superior Court in Lawrence. Pitsas is accused of involuntary manslaughter. (Globe Photos / Lisa Poole)
Constantine Pitsas, a retired dentist, listened to the proceedings at the court. Pitsas is said to have inadvertently given two Glynn children a weed-killing liquid that reportedly contained arsenic.
Constantine Pitsas, a retired dentist, listened to the proceedings at the court. Pitsas is said to have inadvertently given two Glynn children a weed-killing liquid that reportedly contained arsenic.

Case of baby's arsenic death brings wrenching testimony

LAWRENCE -- As seconds became minutes, and as each minute brought his 4-month-old son, Benjamin, closer to death, Douglas Glynn drove frantically between the hospital in Beverly, where Benjamin was vomiting blood, and the Nahant home of a business client, where doctors suspected that Benjamin had drunk the substance that had poisoned him.

When Glynn brought the jug of clear liquid to the emergency room, a doctor discovered to her horror that a warning label taped to the handle indicated that the liquid contained dangerous levels of arsenic.

Doctors at Beverly Hospital, and at Children's Hospital in Boston, could not save Benjamin from acute arsenic poisoning.

In addition, his 2-year-old sister, Morgan, who also ingested the liquid, spent 13 days in the hospital before she was well enough to go home.

''My life was falling apart. My world was dying," said Glynn, describing the events that led to the death of his son. He detailed the events in public for the first time while testifying yesterday in Essex Superior Court.

Constantine Pitsas, a 77-year-old retired dentist who poured the liquid for the Glynn children at a cookout he hosted on Aug. 9, 2003, waived a jury trial yesterday on involuntary manslaughter charges. Those accusations could bring up to 20 years in prison.

Pitsas' lawyer, James O'Shea, told the judge who will decide his client's fate that Benjamin's death was a tragic but innocent mistake -- ''probably one of the saddest stories that the court will ever hear." Pitsas told investigators that he had bottled water in a refrigerator, but feared it was too cold for a baby, so he got what he thought was New Hampshire spring water from the basement.

The prosecutor, Essex Assistant District Attorney Gerald P. Shea, said that Pitsas, in ignoring or not being careful enough to see a warning label, was ''wanton and reckless" in his actions and thus was guilty of manslaughter. Shea told Superior Court Judge Patrick Riley that the arsenic levels were so high that the laboratory where the fluid was examined had to recalibrate its equipment.

Douglas Glynn, the first witness to appear before Riley, was composed in several hours on the stand yesterday, appearing to wipe away tears only occasionally.

Glynn, a financial adviser who said he and his wife, Sonja, now have a second daughter named Zoe, testified that the couple arrived at Pitsas' home at about 5 p.m. that Saturday and sought water so they could make baby formula for Benjamin and give Morgan a drink.

He said Pitsas quickly volunteered to help, and picked up a gallon plastic jug with a white handle and a screw top.

The jug, Glynn said, was the kind he often saw containing cranberry juice. ''He said it was a spring water," Glynn said of Pitsas. ''It made sense to me."

Holding the bottle by the handle, Pitsas filled Benjamin's bottle with 6 ounces, to which Glynn added powdered infant formula. Morgan was given a small glass of liquid from the same jug.

Within no more than 90 seconds, his daughter started vomiting, and she couldn't stop, Glynn testified. Just as he decided the family had to return home to Middleton, Glynn said he learned that Benjamin, too, was ill.

The Glynns spent five minutes saying their goodbyes, and then headed to their car, where they realized their children needed medical help and drove to Beverly Hospital, where the family's pediatrician worked.

Glynn said that the drive took 25 minutes and that the children were immediately admitted to the emergency room, where the doctor on duty, Catherine James, examined them.

The couple told the doctor that they believed the liquid that Pitsas had given them had sickened the children.

When James said she needed to know what was in the bottle, Douglas Glynn repeatedly called Pitsas, but didn't get an answer.

Twenty minutes had elapsed and Glynn drove 25 minutes back to Nahant, ran into the house, grabbed the jug, and drove back to the hospital. On the way back, he said he looked at the bottle, but did not see a warning label.

James testified yesterday that a nurse had brought the bottle to her and that she saw a label with the word ''arsenical" on it. The folded-over label had been taped to the handle. The prosecutor said the label was from a weed killer that probably was old.

James consulted with the Regional Center for Poison Control, and both children were rushed to Children's Hospital. Authorities rushed to bring a rare antidote from a hospital in Bangor, Maine, which had treated church members who drank arsenic-laced coffee four months earlier.

It was too late. Benjamin died two days later after his parents decided to take him off life support.

John Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.

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