Goodbye, sweet Bryan: 11-week-old’s murder changes a mother and family forever

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Above, Bryan at 11 weeks.

(Writer Hal Foster appears here under a partnership with Tengrinews)

One of my daughter Angie’s last memories of 11-week-old Bryan was singing “Pure Imagination” softly to him in his hospital room in Portland, Oregon.

It was her way of saying goodbye to her son, who was brain-dead, the victim of such violent shaking that he had suffered massive brain damage.

Angie had reverted to music, her overriding joy next to her twins Bryan and Ethan, at this most difficult moment of her life. She has been a talented piano player, singer and pop-music composer since she was a child, has her own band in the Portland area and has recorded two CDs. (You can listen to some of her music here.)

Her singing on the night of Bryan’s death was aimed at comforting her child in his final seconds. But it was also, I believe, a desperate attempt to seek her own relief from this nightmare.

“Pure Imagination” is a song “about the promise and goodness of life, things which Bryan will never be able to experience,” Angie said later. “And which Ethan will never be able to share with him.”

As she was singing, she said, she tried “to pretend I didn’t have only minutes left with my precious child.”

All too quickly it was time to let Bryan go. Angie accompanied the orderlies who wheeled the tiny boy’s gurney from his hospital room to an elevator. From there he would go to a room where his organs would be harvested to help others.

When the elevator closed, Angie collapsed on the floor in sobs. “I had to be taken to the car in a wheelchair,” she remembers.

It was June 14, 2011. Angie had been numb for two days, ever since she’d driven back from a piano lesson she’d given to find police cars and ambulances outside her condominium in a Portland suburb.

Lying as he would countless times over the next 18 months, her husband Kaliq told her that Bryan had begun choking.  He tried everything he could to save him before calling the emergency-medical-services number 911, he said.

A jury in Washington County, Oregon, would have none of that lie – nor the rest of the fabrications Kaliq concocted about Bryan’s death to try to save his skin.

The jury listened intently not long ago as Dr. Dan Leonhardt of Legacy Emmanuel Children’s Hospital testified that the baby died of brain hemorrhaging from shaking. Bryan also had a skull fracture, the doctor said.

Kaliq is a powerfully built rugby player who weighs more than 200 pounds. His helpless son never had a chance.

After weighing the rest of the evidence, some of which was as chilling as Dr. Leonhardt’s medical report, the 10 men and two women on the jury convicted Kaliq of murder by abuse. They also found him guilty of nine other counts of assaulting and abusing both twins.

Angie had taken a maternity leave from her job as a technical writer to be the main caregiver for the boys. Kaliq spelled her when she needed a break. He never told her that the babies’ crying unnerved him.

The jury members deliberated less than three hours, meaning none had a shred of doubt about Kaliq’a guilt.

Last month the trial judge, Don Letourneau, handed down the harsh sentence the murderer deserved – life in prison with the earliest possibility of parole in 28 years.

Kaliq is 34. With credit for the 18 months he’s served since his arrest, he will be 61 before he’s released. And if he’s less than a model prisoner, it will be longer.

That’s if he survives prison at all. Many of the hardened convicts in the American prison system despise child molesters and abusers. Kaliq will have to watch his back while behind bars.

The guilty verdict and sentencing in Bryan’s death have given Angie a chance to move on with her life, but of course that life will never be the same.

Although the evidence against Kaliq was overwhelming, neither Angie, my son Dan, my former wife Judy Lawrence nor I could relax between the night of Bryan’s death in June of 2011 and the trial in September of 2012.

You have only to look at the infamous O.J. Simpson trial of the early 1990s to know that slick lawyers can help clients get away with murder in the United States.

Singer/songwriter Angie Foster carries on – without Bryan.

In Bryan’s case, justice was served. Under Lead Detective Andy Hays, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office did a masterful job of gathering evidence against Kaliq. And Washington County Deputy District Attorneys Roger Hanlon and Paul Maloney did an equally masterful job of preparing the trial case against him.

Angie’s relief over the verdict was visceral. She was afraid that if Kaliq had been acquitted, he would have been a threat to her and Ethan, whose upbringing has become her reason for living.

In the immediate aftermath of Bryan’s death, Angie was unable to believe her husband was a murderer.

I called her from my home in Astana, Kazakhstan, where I am a university professor and journalist, as soon as my son Dan told me about the tragedy. I will never forget that conversation.

Angie had not seen Dr. Leonhardt’s report on Bryan’s death, so she believed Kaliq’s story that the baby had begun choking spontaneously – and that Kaliq had been unable to help him.

And she was terrified that the sheriff’s department was on the verge of compounding her loss by arresting the husband she loved.

“Dad, he was trying to help Bryan,” she sobbed over the phone.

That conversation was one of the most difficult of my life.

I had written or edited many stories about murders as a journalist before obtaining a Ph.D. and becoming a professor. I knew in my gut that Kaliq had killed Bryan, but I could not say that to my reeling daughter, who was clinging to the hope that he was innocent.

My son Dan and former wife Judy also knew that Kaliq had murdered Bryan, but they couldn’t tell Angie, either.

All the three of us could do was hope that Dr. Leonhardt’s report – which had yet to be released — would contain such conclusive evidence about the cause of Bryan’s death that Angie would see the truth.

Unfortunately, neither Angie nor anyone else in my family was able to get the report for many weeks. Oregon law says that officials do not have to release crime-related medical reports immediately. Prosecutors kept a tight grip on it as they prepared their case against Kaliq.

The report turned out to be not just definitive but gut-wrenching.

It said that in addition to a massive brain injury, Bryan had suffered extensive damage to the retinas of his eyes – also from being shaken repeatedly – and a broken rib.

The rib injury was older, indicating he had been abused long before his death.

The Oregon Department of Human Services took Ethan into protective custody on the day Bryan was taken to the hospital.

Ethan lost his brother.

The emergency medical-services people who had answered Kaliq’s 911 call had reported that they believed Bryan’s injuries were from abuse. That obligated the Department of Human Services’ Children’s Services Division to take custody of Ethan while law-enforcement investigators got to the bottom of Bryan’s death.

With Kaliq still free, Dan, Judy and I were actually glad that Ethan was in protective custody.

But the temporary loss of her surviving child further debilitated Angie. Within a few hours her entire family was gone or on the edge of being gone. Bryan had been fatally injured, Ethan had been taken away and Kaliq was under a cloud and facing arrest.

When doctors examined Ethan, they discovered a retinal hemorrhage and six broken ribs in two stages of healing. It was unmistakable proof that Kaliq had been abusing him, too.

Some of the voyeurs who follow, then comment on high-profile crime cases on the Internet have raised the issue of why Angie failed to detect the abuse.

I never went on the Internet to answer those nasty insinuations, which only deepened Angie’s trauma.

But I will answer them now that Kaliq has been convicted. I believe he was smart about the way he abused the boys.

He didn’t leave telltale bruise marks when he slammed his fist into the boys’ ribs or shook them so hard they suffered eye damage from oxygen being cut off to their brains.

The entire time the abuse was occurring – and there are indications it started when the boys were as young as three weeks – doctors failed to detect it. They included one of the best pediatricians in Portland, a city known for its superb doctors.

The Sheriff’s Department arrested Kaliq about two weeks after the murders, once it was sure of the evidence. Because Angie had yet to see Dr. Leonhardt’s medical report, even after Kaliq’s arrest she continued to cling to the hope that he was innocent.

She had known Kaliq, an engineer whose father is Lebanese Christian and mother American, for almost seven years. During that time he had never raised his voice toward her.

The notion that Kaliq could become enraged enough to assault his own infants stunned not just Angie but my entire family.

There was only one warning sign of the violence that was to come – and it seemed inconsequential.

When Angie learned she was pregnant, she and the rest of our family were ecstatic.

Judy remembered asking Kaliq if he were excited, too. His response was to shrug. Our family attributed the strange reaction to jitters over the prospect of being a father.

Angie loved Kaliq so much that in the first few days after Bryan’s death she thought prosecutors were “out to get” him.

That’s when the District Attorney’s Office showed her a particularly damning piece of evidence.

The Sheriff’s Department had seized Kaliq’s home computer after Bryan’s death.

On it they found such Internet search phrases as: “father hates infant,” “afraid of abusing my baby,” “how do I deal with screaming baby” and “Oregon child abuse laws.”

The phrases painted a clear picture: Kaliq was aware he had been abusing the boys. The reason for the abuse was that he couldn’t deal with the babies’ crying. And he feared being caught and prosecuted under Oregon’s child abuse laws.

When prosecutors showed the computer-search evidence to Angie, she went into shock.

As Chief Deputy District Attorney Roger Hanlon “read me search after search, I started screaming and crying and almost passed out on the spot,” she said later. “It wasn’t enough that I’d lost my son, but to find out the person I loved and trusted the most was responsible for Bryan’s death was too much to bear.”

With no doubt left that her husband was a killer, she filed for divorce.

Kaliq’s defense attorney, Russell Barnett, demanded that the computer evidence be excluded from Kaliq’s trial. A veteran lawyer, he knew the impact it would have on the jury.

His argument for dismissal was that the search warrant the detectives had used to seize the computer was overly broad. Circuit Court Judge Letourneau rejected his motion.

The judge also rejected Barnett’s bizarre motion that the medical evidence about Bryan’s death be excluded.

It said Dr. Leonhardt’s report should be kept out of the trial because it was “unscientific.”

The motion also asked that the doctor be prevented from testifying at the trial.

Letourneau’s rejection of the motion set the stage for the trial to proceed.