A reporter's notebook…
Starns recounts different version of Angela's death
By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
April 19, 2002
The defense presented its first witness Thursday in the murder trial of Peggy Lynn Sloan Starns the defendant, who testified about her recollections in the days immediately before and after the asphyxiation death of 4-year-old Angela Schnoor.
Defense attorney Bill Jacob has repeatedly queried prosecution witnesses about Angela's health. All have testified that, with the exception of minor childhood illnesses, Angela was healthy.
Her natural mother, Debbie Boswell, said she "spit up" the night before a planned trip to the Gulf Coast but attributed that to excitement.
The trip was a special treat. Michael Schnoor picked up his daughter, Angela, at her mother's house early in the morning on Friday. His new wife, Peggy Lynn Schnoor, now Peggy Lynn Sloan Starns, went on the trip and Michael's sister, Jo Ellen, was invited because it was her birthday.
Michael Schnoor said Debbie Boswell told him Angela had run a slight temperature the night before, but she didn't have one Friday morning.
The group drove down to the coast. They played on the beach, rode bumper boats at a water park, shopped at a mall, ate lunch and dinner.
Jo Ellen Schnoor said Angela wanted to go in all the bathrooms, but she wasn't sick.
Starns said she remembers things trip differently. Here is her version.
Trip to the Gulf Coast
Starns said she had a good relationship with Angela. She said the little girl loved to brush her long hair and called it playing "beauty parlor." Starns said she and her step-daughter shopped, played with dolls and drank imaginary tea.
Starns said she and Debbie Boswell did not get along.
Despite this, Starns said, Angela seemed healthy in general and was a "good eater." She said Angela complained of a stomach ache during the trip and did not want to eat lunch.
She said Angela made a lot of trips to the bathroom and had two bowel movements, one a bout of diarrhea. Angela's appetite had not returned by supper time.
Angela slept on the drive back, and was put to bed on a folding couch Saturday after 2 a.m. Starns said she heard Angela crying in her sleep with nightmares three times. She called Debbie Boswell.
Angela suffocated the next day
The next morning, Angela woke up early and ate some Fruit Loops, but not many. Starns said this was unusual.
The little girl and her father spent the day together. They watched some television, did errands and rented a movie. Their last stop was McDonald's, where they got some burgers and brought them home. Starns said that, like the night before, Angela ate a couple of french fries and a couple bites of the hamburger and drank two cokes.
Everyone in the family was tired and they lay down for a nap, Starns and her husband in the bedroom, Angela on the folding couch.
Michael Schnoor got up first, and went to his mother and father's house in Marion. Angela was still asleep and Starns was to bring her along after she woke up.
Starns says she showered and got dressed, walking through the room a couple of times and telling Angela to get up. Angela, her head under the blanket, didn't move. Starns said she tried to pick her up but was unable to lift her completely off the couch. She thought Angela might be playing, holding on to something to make it hard to pick her up.
She took the blanket off. Angela was not breathing.
Starns called Michael Schnoor at his parents' house. He came home, and the two placed Angela in a car and rushed to Meridian Regional Hospital.
Starns rebuts prosecution witnesses
Several prosecution witnesses testified about things Starns said at the hospital conflicting explanations about how Angela was injured and startling remarks about autopsies.
Starns said she did not tell three stories about how Angela was injured, and doesn't know why anyone would say she did.
She admits making her opinion on autopsies known, but says it was because she knows what happens during one. She said she had become overly sensitive to the idea of "cutting on" Angela because family members cut locks of her hair after she died.
She testified that she did not make any remarks about autopsies while Angela was still alive.
She learned at the funeral home that Debbie Boswell and Michael Schnoor had decided to ask for an autopsy. She denied testimony by two prosecution witnesses that she slung her purse across the room in a fit and temper and then locked herself in the bathroom.
Starns has cried at almost every mention of Angela's autopsy during the course of the trial.
She denied planting a necklace in the folds of the couch to make it seem that Angela got her arm stuck trying to reach it. She says she put nothing in the couch.
She denied complaining about Michael Schnoor's child support payments to Debbie Boswell.
She said she was confused when she told investigator Bill East of the attorney general's office that the couch was in the folded-down position as Angela slept. She said she got mixed up because the couch had been folded and unfolded several times that day.
She explained conflicts in earlier statements by saying she was not given to opportunity to review transcripts and make corrections.
Starns spent three hours on the stand. One recess had to be called because she broke down in tears.
Because she is a registered nurse, Starns' testimony in places sounded a lot like that of the five expert medical witnesses who testified for the prosecution right before her.
The tone she set prepares the way for the defense's expert medical witness, who is expected to testify today that Angela died a sudden, but natural, death and her parents refuse to accept it.