Houston Chronicle

Nov. 22, 2002, 10:47PM

Father of dead boy defends mother

Complications of recent surgery may have killed the child, he says

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

The father of a 7-week-old boy who police say was smothered by his mother stood behind the woman Friday.

Eugene Edward "Eddie" Noel III, 29, said his son may have died from complications from surgery and not at the hands of his live-in girlfriend, Elizabeth Jane Cantrell Burke. Police on Thursday had said Noel and Burke, 26, were married.

Burke is charged with capital murder in the Oct. 14 death of Ian Nathaniel Noel. Police said Burke admitted to a neighbor that she placed a blanket over the baby's head to "get back" at Noel because he had not come home from work.

"I don't believe it's suffocation," the unemployed Noel said from his grandmother's Pasadena home where he is staying.

Noel said his son had surgery the week before he died at Texas Children's Hospital to open up the passage to his small intestine.

"Before the surgery the baby would throw up a lot of bile," he said.

Twelve hours after the surgery, the couple brought the baby home to their Pasadena trailer park. "I brought him home and he was smiling more. He didn't smile before that. I'd never seen my little boy smile like he did when we got him out of the hospital."

About three days later, however, the infant started throwing up again. The child was scheduled to return for a doctor's appointment two days after he died, his father said.

Although an autopsy by the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office is not complete, officials said there is no evidence to indicate the child died of anything other than smothering. The report also says the baby had been dead four to five hours before being taken to the hospital.

Noel said he is suspicious of a tape-recorded conversation between Burke and a neighbor in which Burke says, "I put the blanket over the baby's head to get back at Eddie," according to police.

Noel said the neighbor and Pasadena police may have framed Burke. The neighbor, he said, had warned the couple that the police would try to set them up.

"Even before the funeral, this lady was prepping us as to what might happen and what Pasadena police might be trying. That's what makes me think it's set up," he said.

Burke, nonetheless, admits making the comment to the neighbor but denies hurting the child.

"Elizabeth says she did not hurt the baby. I don't know," Noel said. "I need to find out what happened. I need to know myself."

A Pasadena police spokesman could not be reached for comment Friday.

Police said the neighbor at the trailer park at 1910 Red Bluff called them Oct. 16 after Burke confided in her about smothering the baby.

The next day, detectives placed a recording device on the neighbor and obtained a tape-recorded conversation between the two women.

Noel acknowledged that he and Burke, whom he has known since she was 13 years old, argued over money before he left for a night shift with a pressure washing company. He said he told Burke that he would not be coming home when his shift ended in the morning and instead planned to go to a friend's home.

He was at the friend's home when contacted about the baby.

Burke remains in the Harris County Jail without bail. She currently is on probation for forgery and assault on a public servant from Anderson County. Records show she also was ordered to a drug rehabilitation facility.

Noel, who has a criminal record of drug charges in Harris County, said Burke lost custody of her three other children, ages 6, 4, and 1, when she got in trouble in Anderson County.

Burke, he said, was scheduled to attend a hearing in Little Rock, Ark., in two weeks to try to regain custody. The children are living with grandparents.

"I don't believe it," Noel said of Burke's arrest. "If I didn't believe her, trust me, they better keep her from me. I believe her and my whole family does, too."

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle