Detailed testimony continues in Rice murder trial; suspect's children testify

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - More witness testimony happened Tuesday in the June 24, 1988 slaying of pregnant South Bend mother Miriam Rice.

Miriam Rice

Barbara Brewster, 56, is on trial for the killing. She pleaded not guilty.

Miriam Rice, 28, was a small woman, about 5 feet, 1 inch tall and no more than 120 pounds. Investigators say she was killed by blunt force trauma to the head, and on Tuesday, a forensic pathologist explained just how much violence she experienced.

Dr. Rick Hoover was on scene June 29, 1988, when Rice's decomposing body was found near Pinhook Park. On the stand, he explained that parts of her skull were lying next to her, and between 10 and 15 percent of her skull was never recovered.

Hoover said she was hit at least three times to the head, and any or all of these blows would have rendered her unconscious and killed her.

Rice was walking along Riverside Drive, and investigators believe the attack happened inside suspect George Kearney’s van.

Jurors watched video of the crime scene where Rice was found in the brush. A sexual assault kit was done, but Hoover said her body was already in poor condition to get results.

In July 2018, St. Joseph County investigators sent 10 DNA samples to Indiana State Police for testing. But nothing traced back to Brewster, nor to Kearney, who pleaded guilty before dying of lung cancer in March.

Two of Brewster's children also testified against her Tuesday afternoon. Robert South, who witnessed the attack, said fear was a main factor in why the murder happened.

In June 1988, South was six years old and was riding in Kearney’s van with his mother and Kearney. They went to grab food while his sister Paula Brooks and younger siblings were camped out at Pinhook Park.

South said the couple was fighting in the van when they saw Rice walking and holding a leash. He said an angered Kearney ended up stopping the van, getting out, grabbing Rice by the hair and violently throwing her in his van.

Then, South said Kearney gave his mother a choice – either kill Rice or Kearney would kill all of them. So, he said Brewster killed Rice and, ultimately, her unborn child.

South described Kearney as a “violent person,” saying both South and Brewster feared Kearney.

The hands of power change in the eyes of older sister Brooks. She said her mother ran the relationship with Kearney. Brooks did not witness the killing, and said that South would only say “something bad happened.”

Brooks said her mom made her wash her brother and clean all the blood out of the van, which she says “disappeared” shortly thereafter.

Brooks ended up confiding in her Aunt Helen. After seeing news of Rice missing in 1988, Helen made at least two calls to Crime Stoppers about Kearney, Brewster and Pinhook Park.

Depending on testimony, a few things could happen Wednesday. Brewster will reveal whether or not she will testify in her defense, closing arguments could happen, then jury deliberation.

If convicted of murder, Brewster could spend up to 60 years in prison.