LIVE UPDATES: Fatal overdose given to infant at Fraser’s day care, witnesses testify

Marian Fraser, 59, who owned and operated the Hilltop Drive facility for 24 years, is on trial...
Marian Fraser, 59, who owned and operated the Hilltop Drive facility for 24 years, is on trial in Waco’s 19th State District Court in the March 2013 death of Clara Felton.(KWTX GRAPHIC)
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 6:39 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 8, 2023 at 9:41 AM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The fatal dose of antihistamine that killed 4-month-old Clara Felton in 2013 was given to her while she was at Marian Fraser’s Spoiled Rotten day care, the child’s mother and doctor testified Tuesday.

Testimony from the baby’s parents, Loren and Perry Felton, and the child’s doctor, Patricia Wilcox, highlighted fifth-day testimony in Fraser’s murder retrial in Waco’s 19th State District Court.

Prosecutors Will Hix and Tara Avants have called 26 witnesses since testimony started last week and allege Fraser gave Benadryl to children in her care to make them drowsy so she could maintain a strict nap schedule for the dozen children in her care.

Fraser, 59, operated the day care at her Hilltop Drive home for 24 years. Her facility was highly recommended and catered to some of the more influential families in Waco, including the children of elected officials, bankers, lawyers, health care professionals and Baylor University instructors. Clara Felton is the granddaughter of McLennan County Judge Scott Felton, who has been in the courtroom watching most of Fraser’s retrial.


Fraser has said she never gave diphenhydramine, an ingredient in Benadryl and other over-the-counter medications, to the children in her care without parental consent. A 19th State District Court jury convicted Fraser of murder in 2015 and recommended she serve 50 years in prison. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned that conviction because of improper jury instructions and awarded Fraser a new trial.

In testimony Tuesday, Loren Felton described Clara has a “happy, easy baby with beautiful blue eyes.” She said a family member recommended Fraser’s day care, and she told jurors that she and Fraser communicated regularly, mostly via text messages, about Clara and how she spent her days at Fraser’s facility.

Fraser, Loren Felton said, soon became critical that Clara was not napping like the other kids, a complaint that Felton said confused her. Avants introduced into evidence months’ worth of text messages between Fraser and Loren Felton, who referred to Fraser in court only as “the defendant.” Loren Felton, as other parents have testified, told the jury that Fraser discouraged parents from picking up their children during the 2 ½-hour afternoon nap period.

In one text message, Fraser told Loren Felton that they needed to have a “baby boot camp” and encouraged the young mother not to hold her daughter so much when she cries because she said they spoil so quickly. Loren Felton said she also was confused by that text message.

In another text, Fraser informed Loren Felton that Clara wasn’t napping again, with the warning, “no more three-day weekends.” That meant the Feltons needed to try harder to keep Clara on her weekday sleeping schedule.

Loren Felton described the day she got the call from another Spoiled Rotten parent that Clara was found unresponsive in her own vomit and had been rushed to a hospital. When she arrived at the hospital, she saw doctors and nurses surrounding her child, who, before the autopsy report came back, assumed she died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

“I was in a state of confusion, shock, then heartbroken,” Loren Felton told the jury.

She said she saw Fraser at the hospital, who told her she saw Clara smiling and she went to get another baby. When she returned, Clara was not breathing.

Fraser texted the Feltons the day after their baby died and said she loved Clara as her own and she, too, was grieving. Fraser said she didn’t want to go to the visitation if it would cause pain for her family. Loren Felton said she can’t remember if Fraser attended the visitation.

Avants showed the jury of six women and six men a large photo of Clara that was taken two days before she died. Loren Felton testified she knew immediately after learning that her daughter died from an overdose of diphenhydramine that the fatal dose had been given at Fraser’s day care because neither she nor her husband, Perry, had given Clara any. The Feltons have since divorced.

Under cross-examination from defense attorney, Christy Jack, Loren Felton disagreed with Jack’s characterization that she considered Fraser family and that she loved Fraser.

“Did I say that?” Felton asked. “She was a day care provider. She was a day care provider.”

Felton told Jack that Dr. Wilcox advised it was OK to alternate Motrin and Tylenol for Clara. But Fraser warned in texts that Motrin was not recommended for children younger than 6 months.

Loren Felton told Jack that was only Fraser “trying to cover her ass.” Jack said that is not what Felton thought at the time.

“Of course not,” Felton shot back. “My baby hadn’t died from a Benadryl overdose yet.”

Jack asked Loren Felton about her efforts to contact state and local officials about shutting down Fraser’s day care in the wake of Clara’s death. Fraser kept the facility open until the state shut it down in late May 2013.

“I was trying to light a fire under her butt because my daughter was dead and this lady was still keeping kids,” Loren Felton said of her call to a state licensing inspector.

Perry Felton, a banker and the son of County Judge Scott Felton, and at least two women on the jury became emotional when prosecutors played a short video of Clara laughing just days before she died. He also denied giving his daughter Benadryl.

He described the scene at the hospital when he arrived.

“When I saw her, I knew right away and I dropped to my knees and started crying,” he said.

In other prosecution testimony, Wilcox, Clara’s doctor since birth, said it is clear to her that the fatal dose of diphenhydramine was administered to Clara with her last bottle before she was put down for a nap about 12:15 p.m. on March 4, 2013. In response to a question from Avants, the doctor said giving Benadryl to a child is, in legal terms, an act clearly dangerous to human life.

Avants conducted a demonstration in the courtroom Tuesday in which she asked Wilcox to mix a crushed Benadryl pill with water and baby formula in a baby bottle. The result was a white liquid, similar in color to Clara’s vomit that day.

Wilcox said the level of diphenhydramine in Clara’s system was “a huge amount,” leading her to believe the child was exposed to repeated, consistent doses of the antihistamine.

Prosecution testimony will resume Wednesday morning.