BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WKRG) — A baby arrives at the hospital where it is pronounced dead. The autopsy revealed it had been suffocated. And the main suspect? The father. This is the story of John Michael Ward.

WKRG News 5 is looking back at the crimes that shocked the Gulf Coast. John Michael Ward’s story is the nineteenth in the series.

It was 8 a.m. on April 22, 1997, when officers were called to the Ward’s home by Michelle Ward for a baby who was not breathing. Officers and paramedics arrived soon after getting the call and took the child, Nicholas Ward, to South Baldwin Regional Medical Center.

According to court records, when Nicholas arrived at the emergency room the doctor found that Nicholas was not breathing, had no pulse and already had rigor mortis. The doctor pronounced Nicholas dead on arrival. Some other things the doctor found included abrasions on Nicholas’ scalp, nose and mouth, pus in his eyes, blood in his ears, stool in his diaper, bruises on his neck and chest, a deformity on his right arm and “crusty material in some nail beds.”

The doctor interviewed both parents after examining Nicholas. John Michael Ward, Nicholas’ dad, allegedly told the doctor that Nicholas had been hit on the head after a folding chair fell from a shelf and Nicholas’ breathing problems started later in the day. Michelle wanted to seek medical attention for Nicholas but John Michael didn’t think that was necessary.

The hospital staff contacted the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office because they suspected foul play. Two officers arrived at the hospital and saw the condition Nicholas was in. Because of this, Chief Investigator Huey Mack, Jr. notified the Baldwin County coroner and the Department of Forensic Science of the unnatural death. Mack also noticed that Michelle seemed to be upset during the administration of the last rites but that Ward seemed emotionless.

Mack met with a caseworker from the Baldwin County Department of Human Resources at the Ward home. A blood-stained pillow was taken from the home and DNA testing confirmed that the blood belonged to Nicholas.

In court, Michelle testified that John Michael would abuse her and would put his hand over her mouth to try and suffocate her. In January 1997, Michelle took the couple’s two kids and fled to her mom’s home in Mobile. They stayed there for around a month before they moved to the Penelope House, which is a shelter for battered women. After being at the Penelope House for a month she moved back to the home she shared with John Michael.

John Michael Ward was convicted of murdering Nicholas in December 1998. The jury voted to recommend that he be sentenced to death. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections website, John Michael is on death row at Holman Prison in Escambia County, Ala.