MURDER CASE Scowling skater, girlfriend charged with killing 2-year-old son await trial
Benefits and other efforts have raised $35,000 so far to defend the two.
RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) -- On concrete ramps under Burnside Bridge in Portland, Ore., Neil Heddings thrashed out his reputation on a skateboard: raw, talented and more than a little unhinged.
Tattoos covered body parts not already gashed with "war wounds" from falls at the skate park he helped build, or from beer-fueled battles to fend off outsiders.
A scowling passion blended with a bit of business smarts launched a professional career that took him to Southern California. By November 2002, Heddings had nearly settled into the skate industry's version of a cushy desk job. His Rollmodel Skateboards had a team of riders; he was even able to pay them a little.
"Everything was really starting to come together," he said.
Then one Saturday morning, it all fell apart.
Heddings found his 2-year-old son Marcus dead in bed. The boy had been struck in the head about a dozen times in recent days and died from the injuries overnight, prosecutors said.
Charged with murder
They charged Heddings and girlfriend Christine Rams, known as "Pinky," with murder. One of the two hit the boy, according to authorities, and under California law, the one who didn't may also be held responsible for failing to stop the alleged abuse.
Proclaiming the pair's innocence, defense attorneys suggest the boy may have been beaten by someone else. His mother, Susie Moyer, who has struggled with methamphetamine addiction, had custody of him for several days about a week before his death, and then left him with friends before he returned to Heddings and Rams.
Or perhaps an undiagnosed medical condition was to blame: "His head was starting to get bigger," Heddings said.
Heddings, 30, has long cultivated a bad boy image. He bragged of skating naked and drunk. He named his youngest son Budweiser (he's now 2). Big-time events like the X Games weren't even considered -- too commercial.
"He's just a hard-core skateboarder that lives that skate life," said pro skater Bob Burnquist, who first met Heddings in Portland in 1995 and also lives in Southern California.
Like others in the skating community, Burnquist worries the tattoos, earrings and devil-may-care image may have painted Heddings as an outlaw in the eyes of the police and courts.
"I think it went against him when it came to police," Burnquist said, "the perception from skating and traveling around, how could they raise a child like that?"
Minutes after Heddings called for an ambulance on that November morning, officers walked through the open front door into his four-bedroom home in the sleepy community of San Jacinto. His girlfriend, her hair bright pink at the time, was frantic. Wearing no shirt to cover tattoos that climb up to his neck, Heddings sat on a bed cradling his son in his arms, crying.
"I think they were shocked from the beginning by who they met," Heddings said in an interview from jail. "We look like crazy tattooed weirdoes, you know?"
But prosecutors scoff at any suggestion that Heddings and Rams were targeted because of their appearance or lifestyle. "It's ridiculous," Deputy District Attorney Kelly Hansen said. "I didn't even know what they looked like when the case was filed."
Not buying it
Hansen, who has prosecuted numerous shaken baby cases, also said he had heard claims of possible pre-existing health problems before.
"It's a disgusting argument, that there's a defective baby," he said.
Prosecutors appear to be prepared to allege that Rams hit Marcus. In a preliminary hearing, a detective testified that Rams had called the boy an "ugly (expletive)" and "retarded (expletive)." Heddings said in a message posted on the Internet that he turned down an offer from a Los Angeles lawyer who told him he had an "easy case" but wouldn't be able to help Rams.
"I am not in here alone. Me and Pinky need to walk together," he wrote.
The two were arrested and charged in March 2003, after a medical exam found the boy had been struck within just two or three days of his death; in that time, he was with his father and Rams, and no one else, according to investigators.
Secret tape footage
Taken into custody, the two were locked in a patrol car and secretly taped.
"I told you we should have (expletive) ran," Rams told Heddings, according to preliminary hearing testimony. She added that they had the money and time to do so; Heddings apologized and said "I know," a police detective testified.
"Don't turn on me," she later told her boyfriend.
"You don't turn on me, I won't turn on you," he replied.
In recent months, court-appointed attorneys for the couple have sought witnesses to testify that they didn't cause Marcus' injuries.