Parents killing their own children more common than some may realize

Credit: Journal News

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Gosney plea

Credit: Journal News

Case in Preble County last week is one of several that have happened in SW Ohio

Middletown Police Chief David Birk made a trip to Preble County last week with lunch and a message of support for the sheriff’s office reeling from an apparent murder-suicide that resulted in the death of a father and two children.

It has been less than than a year since the Preble County Sheriff’s Office assisted Middletown detectives in an investigation into the death of 6-year-old James Hutchison. He was run over and killed by his mother at a rural park just over the county line, north of Somerville.

“I know what they are going through because they helped us with the James Hutchinson case, and their detectives were great. For an officer and detectives to pull up on a welfare check and see what they saw, it is trying for everyone,” Birk said. “I wanted them to know there are other departments who have been through it, and if they need anything we are here. It is something that is going to stick with those officers forever,” he said.

“Any time you involve kids in a situation, it makes it 100 times worse ... we know.”

Kellie Elliott called the Preble County Sheriff’ Office around 10:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 24 to a Greenbush Road residence for a welfare check on her children and estranged, Shane. The couple was in the process of a divorce. Shane did not report for work and didn’t show to drop of Caleb, 13, and Grace, 10 at their Preble Shawnee schools after they spent the weekend with him.

When deputies forced entry to the house, they found the 40-year-old father and his children dead in the living room.

There was no sign of a struggle, Simpson said. A handgun was found at the scene, and it appears the father shot his children — then killed himself. Autopsy results will not be back for a few weeks, but Simpson said there is no reason to believe the incident was anything other than a murder-suicide.

He also said detectives believe the children were killed while sleeping.

“It works on you, “ Simpson said of a crime people cannot wrap their head around. “Sometimes you just get to the point that you know have to get through it and do what you have to to do then figure out a way to decompress.”

Simpson said in a a small, close knit community and a rural school district, “everyone knows everybody and their kids. The shock of hearing what occurred really hits people.”

Why do parents kill their children?

Simpson and Birk, law enforcement veterans, say when people ask how a parent can kill a child, there is just no answer — because most can’t fathom the crime.

“There never really is a good reason that I have heard, “Birk said. “We will just never understand.”

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

Butler County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said he has 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 effect 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

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

Brittany Gosney

Last February, Brittany Gosney loaded Hutchinson, a Rosa Parks Elementary first-grader, in a van, drove away from her Middletown home she shared with her boyfriend and drove to a rural Preble County Park.

Gosney planned to abandon Hutchinson and his two siblings in the dark park in the freezing cold. She put them out of the vehicle. As she began to drive away, Hutchinson clung to the van and was run over.

The boy’s body and the surviving siblings were driven back to the house by the mother where it was kept until Gosney and boyfriend, James Hamilton, devised a plan to get rid of the body. Hours later, they drove the boy’s body to the Ohio River and threw it from a bridge. It has never been found.

It took just minutes for Middletown detectives to determine the duo was not telling the truth on Feb. 28 when they walked into the police station and reported Hutchison missing. Both Gosney and Hamilton confessed to their crimes, which included hog-tying the children and locking them in a closet.

Gosney, 29, pleaded guilty to murder and two counts of felony child endangering for killing Hutchinson and abusing his siblings. She was sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility after 21 years on Sept. 13.

Hamilton, 43, pleaded guilty to kidnapping, two counts of child endangering and gross abuse of a corpse. He was sentenced to the maximum of 19 years. He will be eligible for parole after 15 years, but could serve the maximum depending on his behavior in prison.

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., Butler County 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 in Butler County with their mother and her two friends, who told police they went 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., Warren County 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., Butler County, 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.

Anthony Allen Michael Barton

A Bellefontaine man was given a life sentence in 2015 for beat his 5-year-old son to death.

Anthony Allen Michael Barton, 25, submitted an Alford Plea to a charge of murder, meaning he continues to maintain his innocence while acknowledging there is enough evidence to convict him. He maintained that his son, Michael’s death was and accident.

An autopsy by the Franklin County Coroner’s Office in Columbus determined the preliminary cause of death as multiple blunt force head trauma. Barton was accused of beating his son with a plastic rod, killing him.

A Logan County judge sentenced to a mandatory life sentence with the possibility of parole after 15 years.

Brandon Beedy and Caitlyn Heinzen

Springfield parents were sentenced in 2019 to prison in connection to the death of their 21-month-old child.

Beedy and Heinzen were sentenced to eight years in prison by Clark County Common Pleas Judge Douglas Rastatter. The couple previously pleaded guilty to attempted involuntary manslaughter. The eight-year sentence was the maximum the parents could have faced, according to a court document outlining a plea agreement.

The two were charged in connection to 21-month-old Camden Beedy’s death. It was determined by law enforcement that the child had died from dehydration after not being properly cared for. They were originally charged with involuntary manslaughter and endangering children but accepted a plea agreement last month.

Beedy and Heinzen’s legal troubles began on Jan. 12 when Springfield police and EMS were called to a home on the 1900 block of Kenton Street at around 6 p.m. A person who reported the incident to police said the baby was found unresponsive in his crib, according to a police report.

“The baby suffered in that bedroom where he was left alone for what would estimate to be approximately a day,” Clark County Assistant Prosecutor Aaron Heskett said. Heskett said in court that the baby had been dead for hours before anyone noticed.

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