10 times parents have been accused, convicted in children’s deaths in Butler, Warren counties

Credit: Journal News

Caption
Gosney plea

Credit: Journal News

Brittany Gosney’s admission that she killed her 6-year-old son and prison sentence last week in Butler County Common Pleas Court outraged and saddened the Middletown community, with many expressing disbelief that a mother could kill a child.

But accusations or convictions that parents were involved in their children’s deaths have have happened more often than some might believe.

Butler County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said he been involved in child death cases throughout his entire career.

“Really there have been more than you think,” Dwyer said. “… But 20 or 30 years ago and longer you just didn’t hear about it instantly.”

What hasn’t changed is the affect child death homicide cases have on investigators, which has led Dwyer to send deputies home if they were having trouble dealing with a tragic scene, he said.

“It stays with you. It’s ingrained in your memory,” Dwyer said. “It is usually younger officers. There is a time to grieve and a time to do your job, but it can be very hard at the time.”

ExploreMORE: Mother pleads guilty in infant’s death

Middletown Police Chief David Birk said the death of Rosa Parks Elementary first-grader James Hutchison — which happened as Gosney tried to leave him at a rural Preble County park — took its toll on the department with one detective going back to patrol.

“Going through what happened here, it was the straw the broke the camel’s back. And he was in detectives for awhile assigned to juvenile cases, but he said, ‘I am going back to the street.’ So it really takes a toll on the officers,” Birk said.

Here’s a look at other cases of note involving parents accused in their children’s deaths:

ExploreMiddletown mother gets maximum sentence for killing 6-year-old son

Brian Terrell

A case that Dwyer and others will never forget happened in 1994, when 5-year-old Adam Terrell was drowned by his father, Brian Terrell, in the bathtub at a Madison Twp. residence two weeks before Christmas. Terrell confessed to killing his son, according to sheriff’s office detectives.

A detective testified at Terrell’s preliminary hearing that Terrell said it took about two minutes for his son to quit struggling. Then he walked to the kitchen area, got a beer and smoked a cigarette. He then returned to the bathroom to look at his son, Terrell told detectives.

When asked what he would have done if Adam had still been alive, Terrell replied, “I would’ve finished him off,” the detective testified. Terrell hanged himself in the Butler County Jail before going to trial for murder.

Theresa Hawkins-Stephens

Hawkins-Stephens, from Licking County, was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison in September 2016 for the death of her 5-year-old son, Alexander Stephens, and the beating of his 6-year-old brother, Damyan. She pleaded guilty to murder and two counts of child endangering in Butler County.

The judge noted in the pre-sentence investigation that Hawkins-Stephens continued to minimize her part in the murder, stating she hit Alexander with a switch but not enough to really hurt him. The judge said he did not believe her.

Michael Stephens, grandfather of the boys, told the judge his family had offered to help Hawkins-Stephens with the care of the boys, but they were rebuffed. The grandfather called Hawkins-Stephens “selfish with no remorse.”

“She tried to starve them to death, when that wasn’t quick enough for her, she tried to beat them to death,” Michael Stephens said.

The Stephens boys were sleeping in a tent near the Great Miami River with their mother and her two friends, who told police they came to the area looking for work. According to court documents, the two boys were tied up with blankets for “stealing food.”

Cody Colwell

Colwell was indicted by a grand jury in the spring of 2019 for murder, felonious assault, and two counts of endangering children following an investigation of the death of an infant, Cayden Colwell, who was found unresponsive in a Clearcreek Twp. home in April 2019

An examination after the baby’s death revealed Colwell’s 3-year-old stepson also suffered multiple bruises to his body, according to prosecutors.

Colwell pleaded guilty in January 2020 to voluntary manslaughter for his son’s death and felony child endangering for the abuse to the toddler. Judge Timothy Tepe sentenced Colwell to the maximum sentence of 19 to 24 1/2 years in prison. That means he will have to serve the minimum of 19 years and can serve up to 24 1/2 years for any bad behavior in prison.

ExploreREAD MORE: ‘I stare at his pictures’: Mother gives emotional statement before Warren County man’s sentencing in son’s death

Asuncion ‘Suzie’ Avila-Villa

In April 2011, Avila-Villa, 27, of Hamilton, pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, abuse of a corpse, engaging in sex with a teenager and other felonies.

According to the facts of the case, Avila-Villa killed her infant son and threw his body in the trash behind her Shuler Avenue residence to cover up the crime. She first reported to police that the baby had been kidnapped.

Prosecutors have said she killed the infant to escape punishment for having sex with the underage male who fathered the child.

Avila-Villa was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. She avoided a trial that could have ended with the death penalty if convicted.

Carin Madden

In 2000, the 20-year-old Madden pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and gross abuse of a corpse for the death of her newborn daughter, who was found by a garbage collector on Jacksonburg Road in Wayne Twp., Butler County.

Defense attorneys maintained Madden, who lived with her parents, blocked out that she was pregnant and did not tell her parents. On Aug. 20, 1999, when Madden awoke with cramps, she sat on the toilet and realized she was about to give birth, according to court records.

She gave birth in the bathroom, put the baby in a garbage bag and tied the strings shut. Eventually, Madden placed the garbage bag containing the baby in a garbage can outside for pickup.

On Aug 28, 1999, the infant was discovered by a Rumpke worker in the back of a garbage truck.

Madden is serving 20 years to life in prison

Deborah Mackey

In December 1998, Deborah Mackey gave birth to a baby girl at her workplace in Franklin and then placed the infant in a bathroom trash can.

A cleaning woman found the infant alive shortly after Mackey went home claiming to be sick, according to court records and Journal-News accounts.

Mackey, 39, of Liberty Twp., was convicted of attempted murder and child endangering after a bench trial in Warren County Common Pleas Court. She was sentenced to six years in prison.

The baby, named Holly Ann, suffered from medical issues not related to the birth and died five months later.

Anna and Robert Ritchie

Franklin’s Robert Ritchie was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for his part in the scalding death of his 4-year-old in December 2016.

Ritchie’s wife, Anna, placed her stepson, Austin Cooper, in a bathtub where water caused severe burns to the boy before she put him to bed, where he died. Anna Ritchie pleaded guilty to murder.

Prosecutors said Robert Ritchie’s inaction to render the boy any medical aid resulted in the death of his son.

Rebekah Kinner

The Madison Twp. mother pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, permitting child abuse and endangering children for doing nothing to stop her boyfriend, Brad Young, from beating her 2-year-old to death in December 2015.

Kinner was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Young was found guilty of murder and other charges following a jury trial and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

Saralin Walden

Walden, of Hamilton, pleaded guilty in October 2019 to involuntary manslaughter for the death of 3-month-old Rae’Anna on Oct. 23, 2018. Butler County Common Pleas Judge Charles Pater sentenced her to five years in prison.

Prosecutors said Walden was using “illegal substances either at the time of or within close proximity to the time of her caring for her child, and passed out and/or fell asleep on top of the infant suffocating the infant,” according to court documents.

When she was sentenced, it was an emotional hearing with tears from Walden, family members and others in courtroom waiting for different cases to be called.