Western Iowa woman sentenced to 50 years in prison for death of
By Nick Hytrek - Wcfcourier.com
June 28, 2013
ONAWA, Iowa --- Ashley Cameron was sentenced
Friday to 50 years in prison in connection with the drowning death
of her son.
District Judge Jeffrey Neary in May found
Cameron, 25, of Onawa, guilty of involuntary manslaughter and
child endangerment causing the death of a child for the Feb. 11,
2012, death of her 15-month-old son, Markis Dahms.
Cameron had been charged with first-degree
murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison
without parole, but Neary ruled that she did not intentionally
cause Markis' death.
Prosecutors had accused Cameron of holding
Markis' head under a running faucet in the bathtub of their Onawa
home five or six times until he stopped breathing. Cameron
testified during her four-day trial in Monona County District
Court that she had left him in the bathtub to get him some shampoo
and clean clothes and that when she returned, he was lying face
down in the water.
Markis died later that evening at an Onawa
At trial, Cameron did not challenge the child
endangerment charge, admitting that she had left Markis unattended
in the bathtub.
Judge finds Onawa, Iowa, mother guilty
By Nick Hytrek -
May 18, 2013
ONAWA, Iowa - There was no doubt that
Ashley Cameron caused the death of her son.
But her actions the night of Feb. 11, 2012, did not rise to the
level of murder, District Judge Jeffrey Neary said Friday.
Neary found Cameron guilty of involuntary manslaughter and child
endangerment causing the death of a child.
"Ashley Cameron has conceded that she was negligent and as such
has committed child endangerment insomuch as she took certain
actions which resulted in the death of her son Markis Dahms, but
she never intended to cause his death," Neary wrote in his 19-page
ruling, filed after he announced his verdict before Cameron in the
Cameron, 25, had been charged with first-degree murder, a charge
that carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without
parole. Instead, she faces a five-year sentence for manslaughter
and 50 years for child endangerment. Sentencing is scheduled for
June 28 in Monona County District Court.
"We were just hoping that murder in the first was off the table.
We don't feel she deliberately killed her child," said Mary Agnich,
the mother of a woman who is the longtime girlfriend of Cameron's
Neary's ruling made it clear that he, too, did not find that the
state proved Cameron had intentionally killed her 15-month-old
son. Cameron had waived her right to a jury trial, choosing
instead to have Neary decide her case.
During a four-day trial last month, prosecutors laid out their
case that after Markis vomited repeatedly in the bathtub, Cameron
held his head under a running faucet five or six times until he
stopped breathing. Cameron give investigators a written statement,
introduced as evidence, that said the same.
Cameron testified at trial that she did not hold Markis under the
faucet, but that she left the bathroom while he was in the tub and
when she returned, he was lying face down in the water and was not
Neary said that during his deliberations, he reviewed audiotapes
of Cameron's interviews with investigators. Cameron did describe
to them that she ran water over Markis' head from the faucet, "but
not to holding his head under the spigot as one might do to
intentionally drown an infant," Neary wrote.
Neary said prosecutors failed to prove Cameron acted with malice
aforethought, a key element to proving first- or second-degree
murder. Neary said those interviews with police, plus the
recording of a hysterical Cameron calling 911 were helpful in
determining that malice had not been proven beyond a reasonable
Neary said he could not find Cameron guilty of attempted murder,
because the state failed to prove Cameron acted with the specific
intent to cause Markis' death. Neary also ruled out voluntary
manslaughter because the charge requires the state to prove
Cameron's actions "were done solely by reason of sudden, violent
and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation."
"There is no factual basis to support this element or any
suggestion of provocation ...," Neary wrote.
Instead, Neary said the facts in the case supported a finding of
guilty for involuntary manslaughter: Cameron left Markis
unattended in the bathtub, she acted "in a manner likely to cause
death," and by leaving Markis unattended in the tub, she
unintentionally caused his death.
Cameron's attorney, public defender Mike Williams, acknowledged at
the beginning of the trial that Cameron was guilty of child
endangerment. Neary said the facts presented at trial proved her
guilty of that charge.
"Ashley Cameron's actions in leaving Markis unattended in the
bathtub with water resulted in the death of Markis Dahms," Neary
"My assessment of the verdict would be that it seems to comport
with what we believed," Williams said after the verdict was
Monona County Attorney Ian McConeghey declined to comment on the
verdict other than to say he disagreed with it. He said he would
ask Neary to run Cameron's sentences consecutively for a total
sentence of 55 years. Neither sentence requires that a minimum
length of time be served before Cameron is eligible for parole.
"The board of parole can let her out whenever they see fit,"
Evidence shows Onawa, Iowa, mother not
guilty of killing son
By Nick Hytrek -
May 1, 2013
ONAWA, Iowa | It's reasonably possible that
Markis Dahms suffered a seizure that led to his drowning in a
bathtub, his mother's attorney said in court documents filed
Public Defender Mike Williams said the
testimony of Markis' mother, Ashley Cameron, and other relatives
and acquaintances gives the judge adequate evidence to find that
the toddler could have had a seizure after Cameron left the
bathroom and that Cameron did not hold the boy's head under a
running water faucet, as prosecutors claim happened.
Cameron, 25, is charged in Monona County
District Court with first-degree murder and child endangerment for
the Feb. 11, 2012, drowning in their Onawa home.
Cameron waived her right to a jury trial, and
evidence was presented at trial last week to District Judge
Jeffrey Neary, who will decide her case.
Investigators testified that Cameron admitted
to holding Markis' head under a running faucet in the tub five or
six times until he drowned. A medical examiner also said that
scenario also explained the large amount of water found inside
Markis during the autopsy.
Williams said several witnesses testified that
Markis had been seen involuntarily arching his back, exhibiting a
type of seizure.
"The Defendant submits that the Court would be
well within its right to find that there is a reasonable
possibility that while Markis was in the bath and unattended, he
may have suffered a seizure and ingestion of water into his lungs,
causing him to perish," Williams wrote in his 13-page statement,
submitted in writing rather than orally during the trial, a common
practice in bench trials. The state gave an oral closing argument.
Williams also disputed the prosecution's
suggestion that Cameron's differing versions of what happened the
night of Markis' death was a sign of guilt. Williams reiterated
the trial testimony of psychiatrist Dr. Rodney Dean, who has
diagnosed Cameron with pervasive development disorder, a condition
that can cause people to communicate impulsively and made Cameron
more likely to adjust her story when investigators presented her
with new facts.
Cameron testified that she left the bathroom
while Markis was in the tub to get him clean clothes and shampoo,
and when she returned, he was lying face down in the water.
Prosecutors have until Tuesday to file a
rebuttal to Williams' closing statements. Once the rebuttal is
filed, Neary will consider the case.
If found guilty of first-degree murder, Cameron
would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
Onawa, Iowa, mother accused of murder denies holding son
By Nick Hytrek -
April 26, 2013
ONAWA, Iowa - Ashley Cameron stared
straight back into her attorney's face as he asked the question at
the heart of the murder case against her.
"At any point did you hold Markis' head under the spigot like we
have heard testified about?" lawyer Mike Williams asked.
As she squinted slightly, Cameron answered emphatically, without
Cameron, 25, is charged with first-degree murder and child
endangerment for the Feb. 11, 2012, drowning of her 15-month-old
son in their Onawa home.
Cameron took the stand in her own defense Friday in Monona County
District Court and explained what happened the night Markis died.
While she ran a bath for Markis and his older sister, Markis
vomited, Cameron said. She wiped his mouth with a towel, took his
soiled clothes off of him and put him in the tub, where her 2
1/2-year-old daughter was already playing. Cameron said she took a
cup and used it to run water over Markis' head to wash away the
Cameron said she then left the bathroom to get Markis some shampoo
and clothes. She may have been gone a minute or two, she said,
when she heard her daughter cry out.
"I went back in the bathroom, and Markis was face down in the
water," Cameron said.
She grabbed him from the tub, helped her daughter out, then
carried Markis to the living room and performed CPR. She stopped
to call a friend, who told her to call 911.
After being told later at the hospital that her son was dead,
Cameron said, she was an emotional mess and couldn't remember what
she told police who questioned her. In the course of three
interviews in a five-day period, Cameron gave several versions of
Cameron said investigors kept presenting her with different
scenarios, and every time she'd give an explanation, they'd tell
her it didn't fit and tell her something else.
"It seemed like they were more focused on what they had rather
than what I said," she said.
During cross examination, Assistant Iowa Attorney General Susan
Krisko had Cameron read aloud in court a written statement she
gave to investigators five days after Markis' death. In it, she
said she put Markis' face under the running faucet to wash his
mouth out after he vomited. He kept vomiting, and she held his
face under the running water five or six times.
"So you did say you held him under the faucet five or six times,"
"Yes," Cameron said.
Throughout the four days of trial, Williams has raised the
possibility that Markis had a seizure, which caused him to arch
his back and fall under the water while Cameron was out of the
bathroom. Cameron testified that she believed her son periodically
had seizures because he would arch his back uncontrollably at
times. She did not have a doctor examine him for that condition,
Deputy Iowa State Medical Examiner Dennis Klein, who performed
Markis' autopsy, testified Tuesday that Markis did have two areas
of scarring on his brain that were caused by older incidents, and
possibly even occurred during his birth. Those areas may have
caused seizures, Klein said, but there was no evidence from
examining his brain that he had ever had one.
In his closing arguments after Cameron testified, Monona County
Attorney Ian McConeghey said this was not a case about seizures.
"The simple fact of this case that we cannot get around is the
defendant held Markis' face under the cold water spigot," he said.
Cameron wrote it down for police, told relatives and friends and
even demonstrated to an Iowa Department of Human Services
investigator how she did it, McConeghey said. It's the only one of
her stories that explains why at least 550 milliliters, more than
5 cups, of water was either suctioned from Markis' airway or found
inside his body by first responders, doctors and the medical
"This is the central fact of the case," McConeghey said. "We have
not heard any good explanation why Markis had this much water in
him other than the fact the defendant held him under the faucet."
At the conclusion of McConeghey's statement, Williams told
District Judge Jeffrey Neary he would file a written closing
statement, a common practice in bench trials. Cameron has waived
her right to a jury trial, and Neary will decide her case.
Williams will file his closing remarks by Tuesday, and the state
must file its rebuttal by May 7.
Once he receives those filings, Neary must rule within 60 days or
explain to the Iowa Supreme Court why he will not be able to do so
in that time period.
If found guilty as charged, Cameron would face a mandatory
sentence of life in prison without parole.
Witnesses: Accused Onawa, Iowa, killer has history of lying
By Nick Hytrek -
April 25, 2013
ONAWA, Iowa - While growing up, Ashley
Cameron's solution to handling stressful situations often was to
make up stories.
"She didn't know how to handle certain situations, so a way for
her to handle them would be to lie," her father, Kent Cameron,
said during the third day of Ashley Cameron's murder trial.
Cameron, 25, is charged in Monona County District Court with
first-degree murder and child endangerment for the Feb. 11, 2012,
death of her 15-month-old son, Markis Dahms, who drowned in the
bathtub of their Onawa home, in the 600 block of 12th Street.
Tina Rose, who has been Kent Cameron's girlfriend since Ashley
Cameron was 13 years old, said she noticed early on that the girl
had trouble in social situations or when confronted.
"I noticed a distinct pattern over the years of lying when she was
afraid over very minor things like who ate the Pop Tarts," Rose
On Wednesday, a psychiatrist testified that he had diagnosed
Ashley Cameron with pervasive developmental disorder, a hereditary
condition marked by slow social and communication skills
development. Lying is one way many with the condition cope, Dr.
Rodney Dean said, and a person with the disorder may be more
likely to make up stories when facing stressful situations,
although he said he couldn't say it played any role in the
different versions Cameron told about the events leading to her
Previous trial testimony has showed that Cameron first told
investigators that Markis vomited, and while she was washing him
in the tub, he turned blue, arched his back and fell under the
water for a second. Other versions included that his older sister,
who was in the tub with him, dunked or held him under the water or
poured water over his head. Cameron said she had poured water over
his head before giving a final version that she held Markis' face
under the running faucet to rinse his mouth after he vomited. He
kept vomiting, and she held his face under the running water five
or six times, the final time after he had turned blue.
A medical examiner testified that final scenario was the only
plausible one because it's the only explanation for the
significant amount of water suctioned from Markis' airway during
medical treatment and found in his stomach during his autopsy.
Cameron's attorney, public defender Mike Williams, has said it was
possible Markis had a seizure that led him to fall backward and
under the water in the tub when Cameron left the room. Rose
testified that one time Markis arched his back almost
uncontrollably while she held him. His body seemed to arch on its
own with no effort from Markis, Rose said.
"I asked Ashley what is he doing, and she said, 'I don't know, he
does it all the time,'" Rose said.
Kent Cameron said he saw it happen, too, and he and Rose both
witnessed Markis arch his back a second time that day while lying
on a couch.
Markis was never seen by a doctor for the back arching, but Rose
said she called the hospital after his death and spoke anonymously
with a pediatrician about the toddler's symptoms. She was told
those symptoms matched a seizure disorder.
On Tuesday, Deputy Iowa State Medical Examiner Dennis Klein
testified that two areas of scarring were found on Markis' brain
but that they were old injuries and could have occurred during
childbirth. He said it was possible that those scars could have
caused seizures but that it was not possible to determine whether
Markis had had a seizure around the time he died.
Cameron has waived her right to a jury trial, and District Judge
Jeffrey Neary will decide her case. If found guilty as charged,
Cameron would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without
Because of other court commitments, Thursday's testimony ended
after about two hours. The trial will resume at 11 a.m. Friday.
Psychiatrist: Mental health condition could
affect mother accused of murder
By Nick Hytrek -
April 24, 2013
ONAWA, Iowa | Anxiety caused by her son's death
could have exacerbated Ashley Cameron's mental health condition
that makes it hard for her to communicate with others, her
psychiatrist testified Wednesday.
Dr. Rodney Dean said Cameron has pervasive
development disorder, a hereditary condition he likened to autism
in which people have difficulties developing social and
communication skills, are physically clumsy and have academic
Dean said he has also diagnosed Cameron with
post traumatic stress disorder, likely caused by the death of her
son, Markis Dahms, who drowned Feb. 11, 2012, in the bathtub in
their Onawa home.
Cameron, 25, is charged in Monona County
District Court with first-degree murder and child endangerment for
the 15-month-old's death.
Testifying from his Sioux City office via
telephone, Dean, the first witness called by the defense, said
Cameron has given him different versions of what happened to
"She has difficulty giving me a cohesive
story," Dean said.
Her development disorder, which Dean first
diagnosed during a single session with Cameron when she was 14,
makes her prone to fill in her previous stories with newly learned
facts and that she is more likely than someone without the
disorder to try to explain her situation in a way that would make
people see her in the best light. But that situation kept shifting
during their meetings, Dean said.
"She did communicate to me that she understood
she could have handled the situation in a better or more
appropriate way," Dean said.
Dean's experience with Cameron's changing stories was similar to
testimony given during the opening day of the trial Tuesday.
Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Daniel
Dawson had testified that Cameron changed her account of the
events leading up to Markis' death several times during interviews
before giving a version that most closely supported the facts in
Assistant Onawa Police Chief Jim Fouts supported that testimony
Wednesday, saying that Cameron first said Markis had vomited in
the bathtub, turned blue and fallen backward under the water for a
second. Other versions included Markis' 2 1/2-year-old sister
dunking or holding him under the water, pouring glasses of water
over his head and Cameron herself pouring water over Markis.
Fouts said none of those stories supported the medical examiner's
findings of significant amounts of water found inside Markis
during an autopsy. Medical personnel also testified previously
that they suctioned significant amounts of water out of Markis'
mouth the night he died.
Fouts said the medical examiner did not believe any of the
scenarios Cameron gave would have caused Markis to swallow so much
water. When confronted with that opinion, Fouts said Cameron told
investigators that she had held Markis' face under the cold water
faucet in the tub to wash his face and mouth after he vomited. He
continued to vomit, and she held his face under the running water
five or six times, the final time after he had turned blue, Fouts
After Cameron gave that final version, Fouts said, she sat back in
her chair and "thanked us for getting her to tell the truth and
that she felt relieved."
Dean testified that he was never asked by law enforcement or
anyone else to question Cameron about the drowning but that she
volunteered the information. Dean said his only role was to treat
her medical condition.
Under prosecution cross-examination from Assistant Iowa Attorney
General Susan Krisko, Dean said Cameron does not suffer from the
communication problems that many with her condition experience.
The condition only increases the chances that she may adjust or
change her story to agree with someone.
"But you can't say Ashley Cameron's diagnosis had any effect on
any of her past interviews (with investigators), can you?" Krisko
"That's correct," Dean said.
District Judge Jeffrey Neary ruled during Wednesday's proceedings
that he would not consider statements attributed to Markis'
sister. A nurse at Burgess Health Center and an Iowa Department of
Human Services child abuse investigator both testified earlier in
the day that the girl had made statements, both of which included
profanities, that implied Markis got in trouble with his mother
the night of his death because he vomited.
Neary ruled that he couldn't determine "that these are anything of
value to anything in this case" and that he would not use them
when deciding his verdict.
Cameron has waived her right to a jury trial, and Neary will
decide her case. If found guilty of first-degree murder, Cameron
would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Excessive water inside toddler hindered
By Nick Hytrek -
April 23, 2013
ONAWA, Iowa - As Markis
Dahms was transported to the Onawa hospital by ambulance,
paramedics tried to get a tube into his airway to help him begin
But the amount of water, vomit and particulates
inside his little body prevented them from getting a tube into his
"Water was coming out like a fountain, just
oozing out and down his neck," paramedic Ronald Freeman testified
Freeman said that 200 milliliters -- about 2
cups -- of fluid was suctioned out of the toddler in the
ambulance, and more that wasn't measured soaked the sheet beneath
"You should not normally get that much water
out of someone that small," Freeman said during the first day of
testimony in the trial of Markis' mother, Ashley Cameron.
Cameron, 25, of Onawa, is charged in Monona
County District Court with first-degree murder and child
endangerment for the Feb. 11, 2012, death of her 15-month-old son.
An autopsy found that Markis had drowned in the bathtub at
Cameron's home in the 600 block of 12th Street. She has waived her
right to a jury trial, and her case is being decided by District
Judge Jeffrey Neary.
Dr. Mary Groda-Lewis, who attended to Markis in
the emergency room that night, said an additional 150 ml of fluid
was sucked from Markis once he arrived at the hospital.
Deputy Iowa State Medical Examiner Dennis Klein
said he found another 200 ml of water in Markis' stomach during
Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special
Agent Daniel Dawson testified that during a third interview with
Cameron, she said Markis had vomited in the tub and she put his
head under the running faucet to wash him off and wash out his
mouth. He kept vomiting, she said, so she kept holding his head
under the running water. This happened five or six times, she told
Dawson, the final time after Markis had turned blue.
Dawson said that account best matched the
evidence in the case. Cameron, he said, had given other versions
of what happened and she seemed to be "floating out" different
versions to see what he would believe. Cameron first said that
Markis vomited in the tub, raised his arms up, his face turned
blue and he fell back in the water. Cameron later told Dawson that
her 2 1/2-year-old daughter was in the tub with Markis and had
pushed him under a couple of times. Cameron also said that she
herself had poured a few cups of water over Markis' head to clean
Dawson said that after Cameron told her the
final version about holding Markis' head under the faucet, she
told him that "she was glad the truth finally came out."
Klein said that version made the most sense,
because it was the only scenario that accounted for the large
amount of water found inside Markis' body. He would not have
ingested so much water under any of Cameron's other accounts,
During his opening statements, public defender
Mike Williams said he was not disputing that Markis drowned, but
said Cameron wasn't in the bathroom when it happened. Cameron may
be guilty of child endangerment, he said, but not murder.
"Because Ashley was not in there, we really
don't know what happened," Williams said.
Williams said Markis may have had a seizure,
and autopsy findings showed scar tissue on his brain that may have
caused seizures. Klein testified that he couldn't say for sure if
Markis had a seizure at the time of his drowning, and that two
areas of scar tissue found while studying his brain were from
older incidents and could have occurred during his birth. Even if
Markis did have a seizure in the bathtub the night of his death,
it didn't explain the amount of water found in his stomach, Klein
Groda-Lewis and Dr. Shannon Kennedy, who both
examined Markis during regular check-ups after his birth, said
Cameron never mentioned any concerns about seizures.
Groda-Lewis said she did have concerns about
Cameron's mental health. At times, Cameron had more than the usual
stress a single mother living by herself with two children
experiences. Cameron had a troubled relationship with the
children's father and she also was very concerned about what
people thought about her as a mother and a person. When she told
Cameron in the hospital that there was nothing more they could do
to save Markis, Groda-Lewis said Cameron sank to the floor,
started crying and said "that people are going to accuse her of
killing her child."
Monona County Attorney Ian McConeghey said in
his opening statement that Cameron did just that.
"There is no legitimate, lawful purpose for
holding a baby's face under the water that many times," McConeghey
If found guilty as charged, Cameron would face
a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Onawa woman charged with murder for the
death of her 15-month-old son
By Nate Robson -
April 18, 2012
ONAWA, Iowa -- A 25-year-old Onawa woman was
charged with first-degree murder Wednesday for the death of her
15-month-old son, who drowned in a bathtub.
According to a press release from the Onawa
Police Department, Ashley Cameron remains in Monona County Jail on
$1 million cash bail for the murder charge.
An investigation began after officers responded
to a 911 call for a child who was not breathing at a home in the
600 block of 12th Street on Feb. 11, police said. The child,
Markis Dahms, had just been in the bathtub, police said.
An autopsy conducted by the state medical
examiner determined that Dahms drowned and that the manner of
death was a homicide, police said.
Additional details about the drowning or the
investigation were not immediately available.
A home phone number was not listed for Cameron,
and it was not clear if she has an attorney.
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation
assisted with the investigation.