A Judge will not hold a 14-year-old boy accountable for the death of his baby nephew. A week after the child's death in 2015, the 12-year-old boy admitted to putting a pillow over the crying infant's face, but his defense team raised a point in court that had the judge wrestling with the idea of dismissing the case.
The case was not dismissed, instead the Judge technically found the child "not delinquent" for the manslaughter charge against him.
On December 2, 2015 the boy was babysitting the victim, another infant, and a toddler. When the victim's mother came home from work, her baby was not breathing. Prior to an autopsy report, the family believed the boy died from respiratory issues, but about a week later there was another explanation.
"He said, I was babysitting my nephew, he wouldn't stop crying, I then placed a pillow over his face and smothered him," said Riviera Beach Police School Resource Officer Walter Terrell.
The then 12-year-old gave his school resource officer a note saying "I killed my nephew."
"No one ever questioned [the juvenile] as to what he meant by the word 'smothered,'" said Defense attorney Maurissa Jones.
The Judge questioned whether the state could prove there was a crime without the boy's note. In other words, is there evidence that the placement of a pillow on the baby's face killed the infant?
"There's no testimony as to how long the pillow was on the child's face, there's no evidence as to whether or not any pressure was applied, there's no evidence of injuries to the face to show pressure was applied to the nose and mouth," said Jones in court.
The boy's attorney argued the baby's death could have been due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS, but the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy said SIDS is only ruled as a manner of death when there is no other probable cause.
"If I have a four month old who had a pillow placed on their head and now they're dead, in my opinion, they suffocated," said Rebecca MacDougall, who is now a Medical Examiner for the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office.
The Judge's ruling is still no victory for the family of the four-month-old, but there was a clear emotional burst of relief and happiness when the 14-year-old boy hugged his mother in the courtroom after he was told he is free to go.
"He was a 12-year-old child left in charge of a four-month-old, multiple babies actually. He felt responsible," said Jones said to WPTV after the trial concluded.
Jones said there was no evidence a criminal act led to the death of infant before the child's uncle had made the admission to police about 'something bad' he had done.
"To make the leap that a 12-year-old's description of those events in a scant couple of seconds on a school campus, distraught over the death of a loved one, is a big leap. It's a leap that this court is not willing to make," said Judge Martz as he made his ruling.
The Judge said he wrestled with what the child meant by using the word 'smothered' when he spoke to his school resource officer.
"I still sit here and I wonder," said Judge Martz.
An autopsy of the infant ruled the cause of death was asphyxiation, but testimony revealed the elements in the autopsy were similar to that of a death ruled as SIDS or even positional asphyxiation which can be accidental.
"I feel the state could not prove the cause of death and could not prove what actually happened in the room," added Jones.
Jones said everyone in the family felt partially responsible for what happened to the child who was sleeping on his stomach on a bed, but argued the autopsy never indicated any trauma or injuries consistent with the child's statement.
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A 12-year-old boy riddled with guilt passed a note with a confession to his school resource officer. “I killed my nephew.”
Two years later, that West Palm Beach teen is now on trial for manslaughter in the death of his 4-month-old nephew.
The boy told his resource officer the baby wouldn’t stop crying so he placed a pillow over his face and smothered him.
West Palm Beach police initially responded to the home near 44th St and Greenwood Ave on Dec. 2, 2015, when the baby’s mother Jamee Dunmore came home from work and found him unresponsive.
“He had purple lips, he was cold,” Dunmore said in court Monday afternoon.
The baby and two other infants were in the care of the 12-year-old and his 18-year-old sister. The teen, now 14, missed his school bus and stayed home for the day. The 18-year-old was home sick.
Dunmore called 911 while her sister attempted CPR on the baby. West Palm Beach Fire Rescue performed CPR and intubated the baby but could not get a heartbeat. The child was pronounced dead at St. Mary's Medical Center.
Eight days later, the teen, in sixth-grade at JFK Middle School in Riviera Beach, reached out to his school resource officer during a fire drill.
“I was shocked and didn’t know if it was a joke or not,” the officer testified. Riviera Beach police contacted the West Palm Beach Police Department and detectives arrived at the middle school.
“From the things that I told them I thought I was going to be arrested,” the teen said in court. The officer drove the teen to the West Palm Beach Police Department but he was not questioned, a detective said. He was released later that evening to his mother.
The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner ruled the 4-month-old’s death a homicide in May 2016, reporting the cause of death as asphyxia.
“The sad truth is that sometimes infants die and we do not know why,” said defense attorney Maurissa Jones who is representing the teen. Jones argued hemorrhaging mentioned in the ME’s report could have been caused by other issues or that he could have suffocated from rolling over, but the teen wrongly blamed himself.
The baby was sick, according to his mother. He was born with jaundice and suffered respiratory issues. The baby was in the emergency room a week before his death and was treated for an ear infection.
Officers arrested the teen on July 27, 2016. The state is prosecuting the teen as a juvenile. The teen has been home, not on house arrest, since his arrest.
The trial is expected to continue after Thanksgiving.