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December 28, 2002

Neighbor says the 4-year-old saw who strangled her mother

From: San Antonio Express, TX - 28 Dec 2002

By Elaine Aradillas San Antonio Express-News Web Posted : 12/28/2002 12:00 AM A day after a woman was strangled in her Northwest Side home, her 4-year-old daughter has emerged as a key witness in her mother's killing.

Trishawn Fifer, 28, a stay-at-home mom who was pregnant with her third child, was found dead Thursday morning on the floor of her bedroom in the 10100 block of Terra Oak Drive.

Police said Friday they have no suspects and continued interviewing friends, family and acquaintances.

A neighbor who met Fifer and her husband, Nathaniel, about a year ago said the couple's oldest daughter knows who killed her mother.

"She did see it all. She told exactly what happened," said Sherry Guilford, a neighbor who lives across the street from the Fifers.

Neither of Fifer's two daughters, 4 and 2, are deaf, but as children of deaf parents, their first language is sign language, she said.

Lonna Ayres, a professional interpreter for the hearing impaired who knows the Fifers, said the couple met at the Methodist Mission Home, a live-in school for the deaf where students learn life skills.

"They were active in their church," she said. "They'd go to the annual deaf picnic."

Ayres said it was difficult to communicate with the Fifers because their vocabulary was limited; they did not use standard American Sign Language much.

Often, it took several attempts to convey a thought and it took patience to retrieve information, she said.

Guilford said the family had few visitors to the home and they tended to keep to themselves.

As for the children, Ayres said she hopes the children were interviewed in English along with an interpreter.

Police have got to have the "best interpreters in town that they can get their hands on," she said. "I think it should be done in both (languages) to get a clear picture."

Investigators used interpreters to interview the 4-year-old girl, but police spokesman Gabe Trevino said getting information from any child can be difficult. But it's not impossible, he said.

"The fact that they're children doesn't mean they're less credible," he said. "We brought her down (to police headquarters) and got whatever information we could get from her."

Assistant District Attorney Scott Simpson said he didn't know details of the Fifer case but said it's probable that a four-year-old could testify, as long as the child is considered competent.

"The law presumes they're competent," he said. "The child has to be able to differentiate between a truth and a lie, be competent to testify and be able to answer questions in a competent manner."

Simpson, who has had a witness as young as 6 on the stand, noted there's usually additional evidence along with a child's statement.

For now, the girls and their father are staying with other family members while police try to determine who was the last person, besides the children, to see Fifer alive. A neighbor is keeping watch over the house while the Fifers mourn for their mother and wife.

"His world has been turned upside-down," Guilford said of Nathaniel Fifer. "He's got to be strong for those two little girls."

Police are asking anyone with information to call (210) 207-7635.

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