Thursday, September 28, 2006

Nicole Bryner: Mother's ex-boyfriend rearrested

By now, you've probably seen some version of the story below, as it seems to have made national headlines. When I first found out, I was, of course, shocked, but probably in a good way.
This article and photo come from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

New charges in '82 death of 3-year-old girl
Suspect confessed to killing child in '86, but evidence was insufficient
Thursday, September 28, 2006

By Jim McKinnon and Torsten Ove, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Two decades after
Allegheny County prosecutors dropped homicide charges against him for lack of
corroborating evidence, a Penn Hills man has been charged with the murder of a
3-year-old girl.
Timothy Widman confessed in 1986 to killing his
girlfriend's daughter, Nicole Bryner, on March 9, 1982. With the child's mother,
the late Melody Childs, he buried the body in a wooded lot in Brookline, he told
police. Police searched unsuccessfully for the body, and without it prosecutors
could not pursue the case.
Mrs. Childs insisted from the day of Nicole's
disappearance that her daughter had been abducted from a South Side supermarket.
Mrs. Childs was charged with hindering apprehension and lying to police in
1986. Her charges also were dismissed. She died in June 2001 following back
surgery in a Texas hospital, her family said.
Until the day she died, Mrs.
Childs maintained her daughter was abducted from the Giant Eagle, Mrs. Childs'
family said.
"I know in my heart my sister could not have hurt her child. If
anything happened it was all because of [Mr. Widman]," Elana LaPaglia, 42, of
McKees Rocks, a sister of Mrs. Childs, said yesterday.
The new case against
Mr. Widman, 51, appears to have been built not on new information, but rather on
case law that has changed since Mr. Widman was originally arrested in 1986.
At that time, prosecutors could not charge someone with murder unless a body
was found.
A 1988 Superior Court decision changed the law
to say that someone could be presumed to be dead after being missing for seven
The law meant police didn't have to produce Nicole's body to
prosecute Mr. Widman based on essentially the same information they had 20 years
It was not clear yesterday why it took so long to apply the new law.
The 1988 precedent means police could have begun Mr. Widman's prosecution
starting in 1995, when the seven years were up.
Mike Manko, spokesman for
the Allegheny County district attorney's office, said the question of the gap
was "one for the police."
Cmdr. Thomas Stangrecki, head of the major crimes
unit, said the delay might be because there was no cold-case unit during the
mid-1990s. In addition, the case would have been marked as cleared in police
files because there had been an arrest, even though the charges were later
Cmdr. Stangrecki said the case was reopened this year when a new
detective in the missing persons unit discussed it with cold-case Detectives
Scott Evans and J.R. Smith.
After reviewing the case with the district
attorney's office, he said, detectives began tracking down investigators and
witnesses from 20 years before. Detectives obtained a warrant for Mr. Widman on
Monday and tracked him down at Blinky's Bar on Noblestown Road in Oakwood
Cmdr. Stangrecki said Mr. Widman has been cooperative, as he was
two decades ago. At the time, police searched for Nicole's body based on the
information he provided but couldn't find it. Police are prepared to look again.
"If we get some information," he said, "we will search."
A preliminary
hearing for Mr. Widman is set for Oct. 6 in Municipal Court.
According to
police affidavits from 1982 and this week, Mr. Widman said he was sleeping on
the couch when he was awakened by the little girl biting his foot.
he said he backhanded the girl on the head, knocking her to the floor. He said
he put the child in bed with her mother, went away from the apartment for a few
hours, and returned to find Nicole dead.
He said Mrs. Childs concocted the
story about the abduction to cover up the killing, according to the affidavits.
The newer information includes statements from witnesses who describe
evidence of physical abuse that appeared on the child on numerous occasions.
Mrs. Childs' relatives said they know Mr. Widman abused both mother and
daughter regularly. They said she was terrified of Mr. Widman and he took
advantage of her fears.
"My sister was abused from the age of 5 [by their
father]," Mrs. LaPaglia said.
"She was an adult, but she was always a kid
inside. She was always scared."
Mrs. Childs grew up in Pittsburgh's South
Side neighborhoods, the eldest of five children.
"She used to protect me
from [their father]," Mrs. LaPaglia said. "She was my protector."
At 18,
when a Catholic priest refused to celebrate a wedding Mass for Melody and
Michael Bryner, the couple went to a Methodist minister to tie the knot.
fruit of their union was 3-year-old Nicole.
The marriage did not last and
Mrs. Childs and Mr. Widman got together. Her mother and sister said that was the
beginning of the end for Melody and Nicole.
"Tim threatened Melody from day
one. But she was so blind and in love with this guy she didn't see it," said her
mother, Harriet Persinger, in a telephone interview yesterday from her home in
"She was a young innocent who had the most horrible life that a
child could have, and then she ended up with Tim Widman. It was just downhill
from there for her," Mrs. Persinger added.
After Nicole's disappearance,
Melody Bryner remarried and moved to Texas with her new husband, Jeffrey Childs.
Their only son is in his 20s today and living in Texas, Mrs. Persinger said.
While in Texas, Mrs. Childs was arrested for conspiracy and lying to
authorities here in connection with Nicole's disappearance. She also was charged
with bigamy, having not divorced Mr. Bryner before marrying Mr. Childs.
Persinger said investigators in Pittsburgh unfairly targeted her daughter,
ignoring what the mother believes was obvious duress caused by her daughter's
abusive boyfriend.
When the charges against Mr. Widman were dismissed, Mrs.
Childs returned to Texas where, along with raising her son, she cared for her
father, who was dying of cancer.
Another sister told relatives that Mrs.
Childs suffered a nervous breakdown from the stress.
At one point, Mrs.
Childs was seen in her yard talking on the telephone as though her daughter was
listening on the other end of the line, Mrs. LaPaglia said. She also was seen in
the yard digging up the turf with her hands and calling Nicole's name.

This only reinforces my belief that the truth will always come to light, no matter how much time passes. If only, though, it was news of a happy ending.
At the link, you can also see photos of Timothy Widman and Melody Childs. The photo of Nicole's mother was probably after her disappearance. With a little imagination, she could indeed look like someone who knew the truth and regretted it. Not guilty of murder, exactly, but of keeping silent.


Anonymous said...

I truely believe that the mom went insane, because she killed the girl in bed, after he put her there. She did this for him...She loved him so, she needed him alone, and he did not want kids...That is why she died so early from "Crazy:" in a mental institution.

She actually did it, not him!

Anonymous said...

I with all of my heart believe that the mom saw her girl suffering, and then just suffocated her...for the reason that she knew the Tim would not lover her all the way with a child. She till the end said that he didn't do it. She was the mom and she knows. She did it and you all should know this as well. Step back and take a look...a refreshed look.