Burrell Township stepfather charged with homicide in toddler's death
A 22-month-old boy was in a body cast when his stepfather allegedly placed his hand over the child's mouth and nose and smothered him last month, Indiana County's district attorney said on Tuesday.
At the same time, county child welfare workers were investigating how Malachi Patterson suffered a broken left leg while in the care of his stepfather, Juan Raul Campbell, 27, of Susan Drive, Burrell Township, about a month before the boy's death.
Campbell has been charged with homicide, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with Malachi's death on May 19.
“He had a broken left femur,” prosecutor Patrick Dougherty said. “(The body cast) was up to his mid-chest, all of his left leg and half of his right leg.”
Donna Morgan, state Welfare Department spokeswoman, confirmed in an email that county children and youth services “was assessing the family at the time of the child's death.” She declined to discuss the circumstances, citing confidentiality reasons.
Dougherty declined to discuss child welfare workers' involvement in the case.
County 911 received a call at 2:33 a.m. on May 17 that reported the boy was not breathing. He was taken to Indiana Regional Medical Center, then to Children's Hospital of UPMC, where he was taken off of life support after nearly three days.
County child welfare workers informed police about the boy's death, according to court papers.
When Malachi arrived at Children's, he showed “no sign of brain activity,” Trooper John Matchik said.
Dr. Rachel Berger of 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,” Matchik said.
Campbell, who is married to the child's mother, Jamie Patterson Campbell, was in the Susan Drive home with Malachi, his wife's 6-year-old son, his own 6-year-old son, and Patterson Campbell's mother, Linda Patterson.
At the time, Jamie Campbell was in the hospital after giving birth, police said.
Malachi was in bed with Campbell and his 6-year-old son when authorities believe Campbell smothered the boy.
The state welfare department, local child welfare officials, police and others typically take part in a “death review” when a child dies from suspected abuse, Morgan said.
A report that summarizes what happened but has names removed is published a few months after the review, she said.
Paula McClure, Indiana County Children and Youth executive director, declined to discuss her agency's involvement with Malachi.
County Public Defender Aaron Ludwig, listed on a court website as Campbell's attorney, did not return a call seeking comment.
Campbell put Malachi to bed in the baby's room about 9:30 p.m. on May 16, Linda Patterson told police.
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 awoke her and said something was wrong with Malachi. She said she found the child unresponsive with a bruise on his left cheek.
In his statement to police, Campbell said he took Malachi into his bed about midnight, along with the 6-year-old. When he awoke at 2:30 a.m. and checked on the 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, police said.
He said he put the boy between himself and his son.
When he began fussing, Campbell said he placed the child face down on his chest and went back to sleep.
At some point, the boy rolled onto the floor, Campbell said, “possibly striking his head on the night stand,” according to a police affidavit.
Authorities believe Campbell placed his hand over the boy's mouth and nose to quiet him, Matchik said.
Dougherty said he has not decided whether to seek the death penalty against Campbell if he is convicted of first-degree murder.
He said he wants to have the final autopsy report and other information before reaching a decision, which he must do by Campbell's formal arraignment in county court.
“It (death penalty) is something we're still evaluating,” Dougherty said.
“I want to have everything in front of me before I make that decision.”
Campbell, who is jailed without bond, faces a preliminary hearing July 30 before Clymer District Judge George Thachik.
Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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