A 22-year-old Spokane man already under investigation for abusing a baby girl was arrested late Tuesday after his girlfriend’s 1-year-old son was found beaten to death in their Hillyard apartment.
James R. “J.R.” Cooley, 22, told detectives he squeezed and shook little Santiago McCreight repeatedly because he was frustrated with the child’s crying “and his own lack of having marijuana,” according to a probable cause affidavit prepared by Spokane police.
The affidavit was filed Wednesday to support a first-degree murder charge against Cooley, who was ordered jailed on $1 million bond during his first court appearance.
Police also will recommend assault charges against Cooley for an alleged beating on May 5 that left his then-girlfriend’s 6-month-old daughter blind and mentally disabled, said Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, spokeswoman for the Spokane Police Department.
Police didn’t have probable cause to arrest Cooley in that case until his interview with detectives late Tuesday, DeRuwe said.
Cooley’s girlfriend, Rebecca L. McCollough, called police Wednesday afternoon and said she’d left her children with Cooley at their apartment at 3018 E. Everett. She arrived home to find Santiago blue and not breathing in his crib.
In interviews with police, Cooley initially denied hurting the children but later described shaking Santiago and demonstrated how the child’s head flopped forward and backward, according to the affidavit.
Additional charges are expected in connection with assault on Santiago’s 4-year-old brother, Santana, who told police Cooley hit him in the face.
The boy told police he and his brother were in their bedroom for a nap when Cooley told Santiago to stop crying.
Cooley then punched Santiago repeatedly and slammed Santana’s head on the ground, police said.
Santana told police repeatedly, “My brother is dead,” and said “He got killed by J.R.,” according to the affidavit
Detectives examined the boy’s body in a Sacred Heart trauma room and noted a bite mark on his left shoulder, a partial hand print on his rib cage and possible injuries to his genitals, according to the affidavit.
His cheeks were covered in bruises and his eyes were “severely blackened and swollen,” police wrote.
Police took DNA swabs from the bite mark and used a search warrant to obtain Cooley’s DNA. They also seized bloody towels and clothing from the East Everett apartment.
Spokane police Lt. Dave McGovern said Cooley does not appear to have used a weapon.
“Basically it was a blunt force injury caused by him with his hands,” McGovern said.
McCollough, 25, told police she’d left the children with Cooley at the apartment about 10:30 a.m. as she donated plasma.
She arrived home about 3:50 p.m. and Cooley claimed Santiago and been asleep for two hours and that Santana suffered a bloody lip when he fell from a couch.
He then left, and McCollough noticed extensive bruises on the older boy’s face, said her sister, Angela Gilbert said. She found Santiago badly beaten and bloody.
Medics where unable to revive the baby following the 4:50 p.m. call, and he was declared dead at Sacred Heart Medical Center.
“They said he’d been dead for a couple of hours,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said Cooley apparently placed Santiago in his bed after beating him to make it look like he was asleep.
McCollough and Cooley were introduced through friends and had been seeing each other for about six months. Cooley is not employed, Gilbert said.
Gilbert said her sister was unaware of Cooley’s history and had no idea he could be violent.
In addition to the previous child abuse investigation, Cooley was charged with second-degree assault in 2008 after his sister said he attacked her.
The charge was dismissed in February 2009 at Cooley’s sister’s request, prosecutors said.
Cooley is on felony probation for a malicious mischief conviction in Port Orchard, Wash. He also has five felony convictions as a juvenile and several misdemeanors.
Prosecutors discussed his criminal history Wednesday when asking for a $1 million bond.
“There is very good reason, based on the history, to be concerned about the community,” said Deputy Prosecutor Ed Hay. “Although the bond is extremely high, it’s also extremely justified.”
Gilbert said her sister had left her child in his care one time, she said.
“I just want to know why, how he could do this to somebody, how he could do this to a baby,” Gilbert said, describing her sister as a “good mom.”
“We just did a birthday for him,” she said. “He was a good baby. He always smiled … He was the light of our lives. To lose him is pretty hard.”
By Wednesday afternoon, a memorial to Santiago was forming outside the aging apartment building where he died.
“Rest in Peace Tum-Tum,” a sign reads. “You will always be in our hearts.”
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