Uniontown man ordered to stand trial in drowning death of East Huntingdon infant
A man accused of drowning an 11-month-old girl in East Huntingdon July 13 told state troopers in a jailhouse interview that “he freaked out” and fled to Ohio after he was unable to revive the infant when she became unresponsive.
Derrick “Hector” A. Bass, 29, of Uniontown was ordered to stand trial after a preliminary hearing Wednesday on charges of homicide, abuse of a corpse, theft and receiving stolen property in the death of Niomie Rose Miller, who was the daughter of Bass’ girlfriend, Sara Miller.
Trooper Scott Kemerer testified that authorities tracked Bass to a residence near Cleveland two days after Niomie’s killing and arrested him there.
“The autopsy disclosed that Niomie died of drowning. Her lungs were filled with water, and her airways were also filled with liquid,” Kemerer said before District Judge Charles Moore under questioning by Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck.
Kemerer said the autopsy and forensic tests showed no signs of trauma on the infant.
Kemerer said he and Trooper Brandon Yeager traveled to the Cuyahoga County Jail in Ohio to interview Bass Aug. 7 as he was awaiting extradition. Bass initially denied killing Niomie and claimed he left the infant in the care of an unidentified neighbor “because he had some personal business to take care of that day.”
According to police, Bass was supposed to be watching the girl as Miller worked a 2 to 10 p.m. shift at a nearby Honey Bear Sunoco station. Bass was watching Niomie and his own two toddlers at the Laurel Hill Apartments near Scottdale.
Kemerer said Bass and Miller had just started dating a few days prior and he had moved in.
Bass had told Miller he was going to pick her up at work, but he never showed, Kemerer said.
When Bass denied in the interview that he had harmed Niomie, Kemerer testified that he provided Bass with information from the autopsy that showed the girl drowned, and also told him that his messages on social media with Miller indicated he told her he was playing with the child in the same time period that he claimed he left the baby with a neighbor.
Kemerer said Bass then told the troopers that Niomie had become unresponsive as he was watching her, and he put her on her back in the bathtub and began “running cold water on her face from the faucet in an attempt to revive her.”
“He had picked her up out of the (playpen) where she had been sleeping and said he noticed she was breathing ‘very shallow,’ ” Kemerer testified. “He placed her on her back in the bathtub and turned on the cold water in an attempt to revive her.”
Kemerer said Bass told police “he was freaking out” and called his brother, Chris, in Uniontown to come and pick him up in the apartment with his two toddlers.
Troopers allege that when Bass left Miller’s apartment, he took Miller’s two televisions, 27 DVDs and personal documents.
Miller called police when Bass failed to pick her up. When she returned home, Miller found Niomie’s body underneath blankets in a playpen.
“Sara (Miller) said she saw Niomie’s dark hair protruding through the playpen netting underneath a blanket in the playpen,” Kemerer testified.
Miller was in the courtroom, surrounded by family, listening to the testimony.
Bass’ attorneys, Jack Manderino and Chris Huffman, pleaded not guilty to the charges on behalf of Bass.
Manderino argued that the abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence charges should be dismissed for lack of evidence.
“When you think of abuse of a corpse … you think of burying a body deep in the woods … not laying a child in a playpen with a blanket over it,” Manderino said.
Peck countered that hiding a dead child under a blanket was just as traumatic for family members.
“After killing this 11-month-old infant girl, (Bass) takes her back in the bedroom, lays her back in her playpen and throws a blanket on her and leaves,” Peck said.
Moore ordered the abuse of a corpse charge to stand but dismissed the charge of tampering with evidence.
Niomie would have turned 1 July 27.
Bass was remanded to the Westmoreland County Prison, where he is being held without bond.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter .