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Trial Opens for Parents of Baby in Rat Attack : Courts: The attorney for the homeless couple, who face up to six years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter, says the infant was bitten after he died.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a manslaughter trial began Tuesday for a homeless couple whose starving pet rat attacked their infant son, a defense attorney told jurors the baby already was dead when the rodent began eating him.

Steven and Kathyleen Giguere face up to six years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment charges from the death last August of their son, Steven Jr. The 4-month-old was bitten more than 100 times in the station wagon where the family slept.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jim Tanizaki told jurors the boy’s parents had left him alone in the car when the rat’s sharp teeth struck an artery, causing the baby to bleed to death. But defense attorney Salvatore Ciulla said a congenital breathing disorder or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome may be to blame.

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“This is not a case where a rat killed a baby,” said Ciulla, who represents Steven Giguere.

Jurors must decide whether the Gigueres were criminally negligent parents who knew from past experience that the pet rat named Homer was prone to biting people, or whether their child fell victim to a freak accident.

The prosecution’s first two witnesses depicted the Gigueres as neglectful parents who lived in filthy, roach-infested surroundings where liquor cans and bottles, spoiled food, rat droppings and soiled diapers were strewn everywhere.

“The defendants didn’t care about the living conditions of their children,” Tanizaki told jurors.

The couple lived on welfare and food stamps and begged for money. They moved to their car after being evicted from an Anaheim apartment, the witnesses testified.

But Orange County Superior Court Judge Kazuharu Makino has barred the prosecution from introducing evidence that the couple also used drugs. When the second witness blurted out that Kathyleen Giguere used drugs during her pregnancy, it nearly caused a mistrial and the judge ordered jurors to disregard that portion of the testimony.

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Tanizaki said outside of court that the judge’s ruling bars him from discussing whether blood tests show the Gigueres used drugs the night of the rat attack. Steven Giguere, 28, has prior convictions for drunken driving and possession of marijuana.

The case has focused attention on the care of neglected children. County social service officials had received numerous complaints about the welfare of the Giguere children, including a complaint from Steven Giguere Sr.’s parents just 48 hours before the death.

But officials never had enough evidence to take the children away and were unable to find the transient couple to investigate the final complaint before it was too late. The Giguere’s 4-year-old daughter now lives with her grandparents.

Kathyleen Giguere, 31, also has a daughter in foster care in Los Angeles County.

Tanizaki told jurors that shortly before the boy died, Kathyleen Giguere was standing outside the car and refused to tend to the boy as he lay crying, and instead repeatedly yelled “shut up” at him.

The rat measured 12 inches from nose to tail. A necropsy showed it was starving and dehydrated when it turned on the infant.

“The evidence will show--and I’m sorry for saying this--it found its food source,” said Tanizaki, who said the rat’s stomach contents included the boy’s flesh and blood.

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