Indiana teenager charged in murder of 2 siblings

Posted at 12:00 PM, Sep 12, 2018

RIPLEY COUNTY, Indiana — A 14-year-old boy is accused of suffocating two of his young siblings to death, according to court documents. 

The teen is accused of putting a towel over his 23-month-old sister’s head, smothering her to death, court documents state. Less than three months later, records also state the teen put a blanket over his 11-month-old brother’s head while the infant was sleeping.

Court documents say authorities responded to a home in Osgood, Indiana, for reports of a 23-month-old not breathing on May 1, 2017. First responders took the child to Margaret Mary Community Hospital; the child was later transported to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. She died on May 6, 2017, according to Ripley County Prosecutor Richard Hertel. 

Det. Brent Miller with Indiana State Police launched an investigation after the child’s death, and the Division of Child Services launched their own investigation. 

Dr. Karen Looman originally ruled the 23-month-old’s death as undetermined, court documents state, but her exam revealed “a prolonged period of anoxia to the brain.” 

Less than three months later, authorities responded to the same home for an 11-month-old child who was not breathing. First responders took the child to Margaret Mary Community Hospital, where the child later died. A doctor told authorities the child died of asystole, a form of cardiac arrest, court documents state.

Det. Peter Tressler launched an investigation into the 11-month-old's death. The suspect was 13 years old at the time of the incidents.

The teen told authorities he had to save his siblings from “hell and the chains of fire,” according to court documents. 

“(The teen) repeated a couple of times that he had to free them from the hell on earth," court documents say. "(He) also said he didn’t want them to have to live in the hell that he did." 

The teen told investigators he put a blanket on his 11-month-old brother’s head. Court documents state the teen said by the time he told his mom, his brother “was almost gone.” 

According to court records, the teen told investigators he put a towel over the head of his 23-month-old sister “to set her free to heaven.” 

The formal delinquency petition, filed on Sept. 6, includes "awful, terrible" details about the suspect, Hertel said. He said this is the first time he has ever had to charge someone this young with murder.

“In my time here, which has been 19 years, I’m not sure that I’ve seen anything quite as disturbing ... as something like this,” Hertel said. 

After the 23-month-old’s death, the Division of Child Services made the suspect a ward of the court, Hertel said.

According to Hertel, the Division of Child Services filed a Child In Need of Services (CHIN) petition, and the court ruled the teen could return home.

“I didn’t have a say in that,” Hertel said.

Hertel said investigators were able to bring charges against the suspect based on statements the teen made to family members.

One family member contacted authorities on Sept. 5, 2017, after the teen told her he squeezed a kitten really hard after it had scratched him, court documents say. The family member told police the kitten had a puncture wound to its head and “its insides were hanging out of it.” She said her husband went to take the kitten somewhere because it was suffering and the teen asked if he could go with him to “see the kitten’s brains splatter everywhere,” court records say.

About three months later, the teen told the family member he “killed his sister (redacted) by placing a towel over her head.” He told her he knew his sister was dead because he took the towel on and off of her head to check to see if her lips were blue, according to court filings. He also told the family member he killed his brother by pressing a blanket over the boy's head and putting his hands over where the child’s mouth would be.

Medical officials and the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office released an amended report on the deaths of the children and determined the cause to be asphyxia due to smothering. 

The suspect had an initial hearing Monday, where officials read the charges against him and the judge ordered a competency hearing to determine whether he can stand trial. Hertel said the suspect will be evaluated by two doctors to see if he understands the proceedings and to determine whether he can assist in his own defense. If the suspect is declared incompetent, he will be placed in a facility until he gains competence to stand trial, Hertel said.

The legislature also filed a presumptive waiver, which states the judge “shall waive him to adult court if certain conditions are met," Hertel said. A judge will decide whether he will be tried as an adult.

Hertel said he “wouldn’t rule out the possibility” that the parents could face charges but that the focus of the investigation is on the teenage boy.

“We certainly looked at them as suspects early on, and whether they were neglectful or whether they should have done something,” Hertel said. “I don’t know that it rises to the level of criminal conduct, but it’s something that’s been discussed with law enforcement over the course of this time period.” 

The suspect was detained on Aug. 28 and is being held at the Dearborn County Juvenile Center.

WCPO's I-Team has sent Noelle Russell, deputy director of communications for the Indiana Department of Child Services, a list of questions about this case and general questions about Child Service's involvement in criminal cases involving youth. We are waiting a response. 

WCPO is not naming the suspect because he is a juvenile who has been charged with a crime. WCPO is not naming the victims in an effort to protect the identity of the juvenile suspect.