A defense attorney contended Monday that Justin Charles Sr. was under such emotional stress after his baby son’s body was seized by the police at the funeral service that his confession just hours later was not knowingly and voluntarily given.
But Kevin Price, a county detective who led the investigation into the baby’s death, said that he had decided not to interrupt the previously publicized viewing/service the morning of Dec. 29 in an attempt to handle the situation in the most compassionate manner possible for the family under the circumstances.
Charles Dimond of Dimond Funeral Home, the funeral director, said that he had told the approximately 30 people attending the service that the interment would take place on another date rather than on that winter day.
Patricia Moore, a public defender representing Charles, asked Judge David Tulowitzki to suppress the statement during a three-hour hearing Monday.
The judge did not rule immediately on the defense motion.
But Assistant District Attorney Jessica Aurandt told the judge that the matter had been handled with compassion, that the police had not interrupted the service and that Charles had been advised of his right to remain silent.
She asked the judge to deny the motion.
Charles, 24, of South Fork, is charged in the shaken-baby death of his 7-week-old infant son, Justin Jr., on Dec. 23 at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.
The cause of death was listed as retinal hemorrhaging and a subdural hematoma of the brain.
Charles’ trial is set for Sept. 24. The charges against him include third-degree murder and aggravated assault.
He has been held without bond in the county prison since his arrest on Dec. 29.
Price testified that even though an autopsy had been performed by the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office after the infant had died, investigators determined that a second one was necessary.
They had learned that hospital X-rays showed that the baby had sustained broken legs, and the legs had not been examined during the first autopsy, he said.
Moore contended that Price – who had obtained a search warrant for the body around 5 p.m. Dec. 28 – could have taken the body from the funeral home that evening or even early in the morning of Dec. 29 before the viewing began at 9 a.m.
Price testified that the funeral director – at the close of the viewing and just before the prayer service was to begin – had the parents go his office, where the detective said he told them he had a warrant to take their son’s body back to Pittsburgh for “more tests.”
Neither parent objected, saying that they wanted to learn what had happened to their baby son, Price said.
The detective said, “He (Charles) wanted to help us to find out what had happened to his baby.”
When Price told both parents that he needed to talk with them, they agreed to do so that day and went with him from the funeral home rather than going to a luncheon for family and friends.
Because they didn’t have transportation, he drove them to the FBI offices in Johnstown, where they were placed in separate rooms to be interviewed, Price said.
Price refused to characterize Charles as a “target” of the investigation, but said that he knew that it was important to speak with both parents to find out the truth of what had happened.
Although he initially told Charles at the outset that he was free to leave at any time, the detective said that after Charles admitted to shaking the baby, the defendant was told that he was not going home that day.
In reply to questioning by Moore, Price said that he had not told Charles that Amanda Stiffler, the mother, had told detectives in a nearby room after the infant’s death the defendant had called her “a baby killer.”
Price said that Charles admitted to shaking the baby three other times prior to Dec. 21 and to squeezing the infant’s legs.
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