The Stevens County prosecutor is seeking a second-degree murder charge against a former foster mother whose 7-year-old son died of severe dehydration last year.
Carole Ann DeLeon, 51, was previously charged with criminal mistreatment of one child. Now, Prosecutor Jerry Wetle is asking the court’s permission to add the charge of second-degree murder of another boy, Tyler DeLeon.
The motion, which alleges that DeLeon continually withheld food and water from the boys, will be heard by Judge Allen C. Nielson on July 25 in Stevens County Superior Court in Colville, Wetle said.
“We’ll see what the judge says with the motion,” Wetle said.
The motion, filed late on Monday, alleges that DeLeon repeatedly prevented Tyler from drinking fluids and told people that the boy had an abnormal medical condition that caused him to drink until he became sick. Tyler died on Jan. 13, 2005, from severe dehydration, according to his autopsy.
“Obviously, we disagree with the nature of the allegations, but they are only allegations at this point,” said Carl Oreskovich, DeLeon’s attorney. “It is our position that these charges should never have been filed.”
The filing allows DeLeon’s attorney to ask the judge to block the prosecutor from filing a murder charge.
The move leaves the ultimate decision with the judge. Under Washington law, prosecutors can file amended charges without receiving permission from a judge.
But, Wetle said, “I want them tried together.”
In April, Wetle charged DeLeon with criminal mistreatment of an 8-year-old boy, alleging the former paralegal withheld food and fluid from the child. That boy survived and later began to develop normally in a second home, according to the documents.
The documents do not include any charges against DeLeon’s adult daughter, Christina Burns-DeLeon, 29. Last spring, a Stevens County Sheriff’s Department report listed both DeLeon and her daughter as suspects in Tyler’s death, according to a search warrant filed in the case.
Tyler’s biological family said the charges were a relief after 18 months of waiting.
“I’m still in shock,” said Pamela Reed, the boy’s grandmother. “Being this long and actually hearing the word ‘murder,’ I don’t know what to think. … I’m happy.”
Kenda Bradford, Tyler’s biological mother, said she was glad to hear the news.
“Murder cases have to be handled with precision,” Bradford said. “It’s better to make sure you have enough to charge.”
The documents cite dozens of sources of information, from medical records to interviews and bone X-rays.
The affidavit for probable cause asserts that “deliberate cruelty was manifested” at the rural foster home in southern Stevens County.
A baby sitter, who noted the unusual number of scratches and bruises on Tyler, said she once watched the boy lick water off his hands. The baby sitter said she gave Tyler water because “she knew there was no reason why he couldn’t have water,” according to the documents.
Jerry Wing and his wife allegedly witnessed Tyler and the second boy, identified only as S.M.M., crying and yelling, “Water, water, I want some water” for about three hours at the Willow Bay Resort in Nine Mile Falls, Wash.
The man said Tyler was often kept locked in the van or put under a tree at the resort. When a security guard took Tyler some water, Christina Burns-DeLeon “went into a rage, and said it would set (Tyler) back months with his sickness,” according to the documents.
DeLeon allegedly later told Wing that Tyler’s physician “put him on new medication because of what the guard had done.”
DeLeon also told personnel at Lake Spokane Elementary School that the tiny boy had an eating and drinking disorder, although there was no documentation of such a disorder, according to the affidavit.
In October 2004, a school nurse sent a fax to Tyler’s physician asking whether he had any fluid restrictions. But the nurse did not receive a response, according to the affidavit.
A prominent pediatrician who reviewed the case after Tyler’s death found “strong evidence that (Tyler) was abnormally deprived of fluid and nutrition over a prolonged period of time,” the documents said.