Young boy’s death at hands of foster parents led to change

Marcus Fiesel was killed five years ago, prompting overhaul of child welfare system.

It’s been five years since the death of 3-year-old Marcus Fiesel at the hands of his foster parents that captured the attention of the region, state and nation, sent two people to prison for the rest of their lives and led to a child welfare system overhaul.

Marcus, the Middletown boy with an impish grin, would have turned 8 in June. Instead of marking another birthday, he will be remembered for his horrific death.

The developmentally disabled boy was bound in a blanket wrapped with duct tape and placed in a playpen inside an upstairs closet while Liz and David Carroll Jr., live-in girlfriend Amy Baker, their children and foster children, and even the family dog, traveled to an August family reunion in Kentucky during the hottest days of the year.

“I’d like to think the laws that have changed in his memory have been beneficial in the fact that we haven’t had any other child have the same fate that he did,” said Gary Cates, a former state senator from West Chester Twp. “If that’s his legacy, that no other child’s been harmed, then that’s a tremendous legacy that Marcus left other children.”

Both Liz and David Carroll declined interview requests from prison.

Marcus’ death during the weekend of Aug. 4-6, 2006, in the closet of the Carrolls’ Union Twp. home in Clermont County placed a giant spotlight on some gaping holes in the child welfare system and led private foster placement agency, the former Lifeway for Youth, from operating in the state.

While his death was the breaking point to prompt reform in Ohio’s foster care and children services system, other children died while under the charge of Butler County Children Services: Tiffany Hubbard, 3, of Hamilton in 1986; Randi Fuller, 2, of Hamilton, in 2000; Christopher Long, 2, of Middletown, in 2001; Courtney Centers, 3, of Middletown in 2002; Jesus Rodriquez, 7 months, of Hamilton in 2003; and Justin Johnson, 13 months, of Middletown in 2004.

Marcus’ hurdles

Born on June 24, 2003, Marcus had many obstacles from the start. He was born with a developmental disability — though not specifically diagnosed, he had “global delays” and needed 24-hour care and attention.

Marcus slept on a foam mat at the home of his biological mother, Donna Trevino, and he and his siblings were not closely watched or cared for. Butler County Children Services became involved with the family in Aug. 9, 2004.

When Marcus was found wandering the streets on April 22, 2006, almost being hit by a car — roughly four months after he accidentally fell out of a second-story window — caseworkers removed Trevino’s three children from her home, where reports showed there was feces on the carpet and wall of the flea-infested home. This was the third time her children had been taken from her care.

The day Marcus went ‘missing’

The public story of Marcus’ disappearance began on Aug. 15, 2006, after Liz Carroll collapsed from an apparent heart condition at an Anderson Twp. park in Hamilton County. When medics responded, she told them she brought four children to the park, but only three were present. This sparked a massive three-day search by hundreds of volunteers, law enforcement and search and rescue teams.

“I still have nightmares about that little guy,” said Jann Heffner, then director of Butler County Children Services. “You don’t get into this business unless you care about the care and physical well being of a child.”

She and some of her staff, including Marcus’ caseworker Joe Beumer went out immediately to search for the child.

Beumer was in “shock and disbelief” but said the story of his disappearance “wasn’t adding up.” He doubted Marcus would have run off — even though that would be something he would do, when his foster mother collapsed. “Any child that experiences something like that I think their natural instinct would be to stay with that person that’s hurt,” he said, “even if they couldn’t do anything they would just sit there.”

Worry quickly turned into horror at the end of August 2006 when the Carrolls were charged with murder.

The case

Not many things hang on the walls in Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters’ office, but a drawing of Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Jim Borgman of Marcus holding hands with God walking toward heaven has a special place.

“To this day it just chills me that someone could do that to a little baby. They are where they belong and they will have to answer to God,” Deters said.

Deters had prosecuted the case before it was moved over to Clermont County since Marcus died in the Carrolls’ home. He said he thinks about the 3-year-old boy “all the time.”

“The inhumanity of how they treated him, it boggles my mind when you’ve got children,” he said.

The story of Marcus’ disappearance unraveled at Liz Carroll’s televised news conference, which Deters watched from his office. “It was rehearsed and came off very untruthful,” he said.

He immediately brought in Liz Carroll and Amy Baker (who now goes by Amy Ramsey) before a county grand jury. He talked to Baker first, and with her attorney present, said “if she was not truthful, she’ll go to prison.” After consulting with her attorney — who Deters said was ghostly pale after the attorney-client conversation — Baker admitted what happened to Marcus.

“It was disgusting,” Deters said of her testimony.

She revealed Marcus had been dead for days before the disappearance hoax at the park, and that she helped David Carroll burn the boy’s body in rural Brown County and throw the rest of his remains in the Ohio River.

Following a jury trial in February 2007, Liz Carroll was convicted of charges including murder and sentenced to 54 years to life in prison; her husband later was sentenced to 16 years to life as part of a plea deal.

The aftermath

An Ohio Department of Job and Family Services investigation pointed blame at Lifeway for Youth, the New Carlisle, Ohio-based foster care provider that placed Marcus with the Carrolls.

For reasons that include and extend beyond Marcus’ case, ODJFS later pulled Lifeway’s operational certificate, a decision upheld by a Franklin County judge.

Although investigations determined that Butler County Children Services did nothing wrong, Heffner was moved into a consulting role and then fired by the county commissioners. The Butler County Children Services Board — initially formed in the wake of 3-year-old Tiffany Hubbard’s abuse and death in 1986 at the hands of her biological father — was disbanded.

The Rev. Johnny Wade Sloan, chairman of the 11-member board, didn’t agree or see the reason to disband the board.

“(The Carrolls) promised 24-hour adult supervision and there was no reason for us not to place (the kids) when (Lifeway was) telling us, as a licensed agency, they had an ideal place,” he said.

But Sloan and Heffner said the decisions to disband the board and fire Heffner were political moves and not a result of Marcus’ death. “Marcus Fiesel became the focal point for that happening because that would have happened regardless,” Sloan said. Former Butler County Commissioner Mike Fox resigned his elected seat and later was appointment Children Services director. He has since resigned and is headed to federal prison in an unrelated case.

System changes

The death of Marcus Fiesel prompted change the Ohio child welfare system, though the need for retooling the system had been evident for years, said Gary Cates, a former state senator from West Chester Twp.

In 2007, Cates introduced legislation in the Ohio Senate and Rep. Courtney Combs, R-Hamilton, introduced legislation in the Statehouse.

“I hope and pray that it never happens again,” Combs said of Marcus’ death.

Implementing the legislation requirements cost about $15 million in both the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years, said ODJFS spokeswoman Angela Terez. That investment included about $5.2 million in federal funds in each of the years, she said. After Marcus’ death, the Criminal Justice Information System, formed in Montgomery County, expanded to now include 14 Ohio counties. Had CJIS been in effect in Butler County, Marcus could have been pulled from the Carroll home following a June 2006 domestic violence arrest of David Carroll Jr., though the charge was later dismissed.

“Any foster parent in our network — even foster parents where we don’t have children in their homes — if they are pulled over even for a speeding ticket we’re made aware of it instantly,” said Jeff Centers, current children services director. “Anything that might raise a red flag, we’ll know about it immediately.”

Centers said the county pays $46,000 a year for the CJIS licensing records checks and that the agency also has a $95,000 annual contract with the county sheriff’s office to have a deputy supervise the investigations unit and provide services such as security and finding runaways.

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