A Burrell Township man has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of his stepson last week, and Indiana County District Attorney Pat Dougherty said he is still considering whether to seek the death penalty.
Juan Campbell, 27, of 88 Susan Drive, Apt. 13, is being held in the Indiana County Jail without bond.
“We’re dealing with a case of child abuse here,” Dougherty said at a press conference Monday afternoon at the Indiana County Court House. “This child was basically smothered.”
Campbell was originally charged with aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child and recklessly endangering another person after 22-month-old Malachi Patterson was rushed to Indiana Regional Medical Center and then Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh around 2:30 a.m. Friday, according to reports.
Malachi showed no brain activity when he arrived at Children’s, state police Trooper John Matchik said at the press conference, and he was taken off life support around 12:30 p.m. Sunday. The charges were amended to include criminal homicide on Monday.
According to the updated criminal complaint, police interviewed Campbell on Sunday after Malachi had been declared dead. He told them that he originally put Malachi to sleep in his own room Thursday evening, but that around midnight he moved the toddler into his bed along with his 6-year-old son.
Malachi was whining, so he laid him on his chest and went back to sleep, Campbell told police.
Around 2 or 2:30 a.m. he woke up to go to the bathroom, and Malachi rolled off his chest and onto the floor, possibly hitting his head on the nightstand. Campbell picked him up and put him back on the bed, but he was whimpering, according to court papers.
Campbell told police he placed his hand over Malachi’s mouth, blocking his nasal passages, and kept his hand there until the child stopped whimpering, according to the criminal complaint.
He later realized the boy was not breathing, and called his wife and the child’s mother, Jamie Campbell, who was in the hospital following the birth of another child.
She told him to wake her mother, Lynn Patterson, who was asleep in another room in the apartment along with another 6-year-old child, and to call 911.
Matchik said that when the child arrived at Children’s Hospital he had a bruise on his left cheek and emerging bruises on his nose and ear as well as swelling of the brain due to a lack of oxygen.
An autopsy was performed Monday but the cause of death has not been reported.
Dougherty said police officers had removed evidence from the home and are seeking records from both hospitals about the incident and any records connected to the family from Children and Youth Services.
He said that until he receives the autopsy report he could not comment on whether Malachi had been abused prior to the time he was smothered, but that at this point investigators have no reason to disbelieve Campbell’s story.
He also said investigators intend to interview the two children who were in the home that night, one of whom was believed to be in the room during the incident with Malachi.
“The investigation is not over,” he said. “We still have some other people we need to talk to.”
Dougherty said the children remain in Jamie Campbell’s care, and that no one other than Juan Campbell is expected to be charged in relation to Malachi’s death.
He reminded parents that it’s all right to walk away from a crying child for a few minutes, rather than become dangerously frustrated.
“Any parent can get frustrated, we understand that, but you cannot go about quieting a child by putting your hand over their mouth and smothering them. That’s not acceptable,” he said. “Walk away.”