Prosecutors: Smothering killed Indiana County tot
An Indiana County toddler's death was caused when his stepfather placed his hand over the child's mouth and nose, suffocating him, prosecutors said on Monday.
Malachi Patterson, 22 months, was removed from life support on Sunday in Children's Hospital of UPMC.
District Attorney Patrick Dougherty has added homicide to the charges against Juan Raul Campbell, 27, of Susan Drive, Burrell Township.
The boy's injuries “lead us to believe the child was basically smothered,” Dougherty said.
Campbell was charged on Friday with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child.
A $150,000 cash bond was revoked, and Campbell remains in the Indiana County Jail, Dougherty said.
“We are dealing with a case of child abuse here,” the district attorney said in a news conference. “Am I going to seek the death penalty? I don't have to decide until the formal arraignment. This investigation is not over.”
Indiana County 911 received a call at 2:33 a.m. Friday that reported the child was not breathing. He was taken to Indiana Regional Medical Center, then to Children's Hospital, police said.
When he arrived at Children's, Malachi showed “no signs of brain activity,” Trooper John Matchik said.
Matchik said Dr. Rachel Berger of the Children's Advocacy Center reported that bruising from the boy's left ear and cheek to the tip of his nose and nostrils was “highly concerning for physical abuse.”
Authorities said Campbell, who is married to the child's mother, Jamie Patterson Campbell, was in the home with Malachi, his 6-year-old son, his wife's 6-year-old son and Patterson Campbell's mother, Linda Patterson.
Jamie Campbell, who recently gave birth, was hospitalized at the time, police said.
Linda Patterson told police on Friday that Campbell put Malachi to bed in the baby's room about 9:30 p.m. Thursday. She said she checked on him once and later heard the boy whining slightly and Campbell moving around.
At 2:30 a.m., Patterson said, Campbell woke her and said something was wrong with Malachi.
She said she found the child unresponsive in Campbell's room with a bruise on his left cheek.
In his statement to police, Campbell said that about midnight, he took Malachi into bed with him and his 6-year-old son. He said when he awoke at 2:30 a.m. and checked on both boys, Malachi was unresponsive. Campbell said he performed CPR and called his wife, who told him to wake her mother and call 911.
When Malachi died, Campbell changed his story, according to police.
He said he put the boy between himself and his son. When the baby began fussing, Campbell placed the baby facedown on his chest and went back to sleep, Campbell said.
At some point, the boy rolled onto the floor, Campbell said, “possibly striking his head on the night stand,” according to an affidavit of probable cause filed with District Judge George Thachik.
“In an effort to get him to stop (crying), we believe Campbell placed his hand over his mouth and nose until he made no more audible sounds,” Matchik said.
Results of an autopsy were not complete on Monday, Dougherty said.
A court order was served to Indiana County Children and Youth Services to determine whether there were previous incidents involving the child, Dougherty said.
“We believe (Campbell) acted alone,” he said.
Matchik declined to comment on a search warrant executed at the Susan Drive residence.
Forensic interviews are planned with the two children who were in the home on Friday. Jamie Campbell has custody of the three other children, officials said.
Dougherty said parents need to be vigilant about whom they entrust with their children.
“If you are frustrated, walk away. If that had happened here, we would not be talking. That did not happen,” he said. “You cannot quiet a child by putting a hand over their mouth and nose. That is not acceptable.”
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.