Sept. 20, 2005 — -- A retired dentist who allegedly killed a baby and poisoned his sister by accidentally giving them arsenic-laced weed killer is on trial in what defense attorneys have described as "one of the saddest stories the court will ever hear."
Constantine Pitsas, 77, is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Aug. 9, 2003, death of 4-month-old Benjamin Glynn. Pitsas faces additional assault and battery charges in the poisoning of Benjamin's 2-year-old sister, Morgan.
Massachusetts prosecutors say Pitsas, 77, either ignored or did not see the warning label attached to a one-gallon jug that said "arsenical" and "total weed killer" when he served the children at a barbecue at his home in Nahant. The children immediately became violently ill. Benjamin died two days later; Morgan spent 13 days in the hospital but survived.
Prosecutors say Pitsas should have noticed the label. But in opening statements, Pitsas' attorney said Pitsas thought he was giving the children water. He said the label was inconspicuous.
"Your honor, this is a tragic accident, and one of the saddest stories that the court will ever hear," attorney James O'Shea said. "But it did not involve criminal intent."
At the barbecue, Douglas Glynn, the children's father and Pitsas' financial planner, asked Pitsas for water to mix in Benjamin's baby formula and pour in Morgan's cup. Pitsas told investigators he had bottled water in his refrigerator but thought it was too cold for Benjamin. So, he brought a container of what he thought was spring water from the basement.
Glynn said the children immediately began vomiting. He and his wife rushed them to the hospital, where doctors realized they had ingested arsenic
"My world was disappearing," Glynn said. "We knew how sick Benjamin was. ... I might be losing both my children on that Sunday morning. ... That's my state of mind."
An antidote to arsenic was 240 miles away at a hospital in Bangor, Maine, where members of a church had been treated four months earlier after drinking arsenic-laced coffee. In a high-speed interstate relay, authorities rushed to get the antidote. But it was too late for Benjamin, and prosecutors say Morgan's long-term prognosis is uncertain.
Pitsas has waived his right to a jury trial and opted to have a judge decide his case.
ABC News affiliate WCVB in Boston contributed to this report.