Video used in child slaying case

Relates to:
Date: 2001-01-05

On the tape a man charged with murder says he wrapped the 3-year- old tightly in a blanket. The child was found face down, not breathing.

Jim Curtis stood in a small police interview room with his wife and his mother-in-law. Unbeknownst to them, a hidden video camera recorded their words and actions.

"I'm being charged with murder," Jennifer Curtis told her husband, according to a tape of the conversation played in a court hearing Thursday.

It was Sept. 29, and authorities were investigating the death two days earlier of Alex Boucher, the 3-year-old disabled boy the Curtises were trying to adopt. Having just learned that an autopsy had concluded Alex was the victim of a homicide, New Port Richey detectives now considered Jim and Jennifer Curtis the two prime suspects.

"I can't go to jail," Jennifer Curtis told her husband. "I'll die in there. . . . Did you do anything, Jim?"

Jim Curtis rubbed his shaved head and said: "I put him in a blanket."

"Did you wrap him tight?" his wife asked.

"Yes."

"Did you tell them (detectives) that?"

"No."

"Will you?"

"Yes."

Prosecutors played the tape, which also included Jim Curtis' account of how he wrapped Alex in a blanket at his New Port Richey apartment on Sept. 25, at a probable-cause hearing Thursday. Jim Curtis' court-appointed lawyer, Bob Attridge, argued at the hearing that the state's evidence in the case wasn't strong enough to hold his client on murder charges.

Circuit Judge William Webb did not make a ruling Thursday.

Before Curtis talked to New Port Richey police Detective Steve Kostas on Sept. 29, he picked up a small doll from a table in the interview room and asked for a blanket, according to the videotape. He then took the blanket and wrapped it gingerly around the doll, covering the entire body and mouth.

"He was crying," Curtis told Kostas. "I wrapped him up in the blanket and put him in his bed."

He said he put Alex on his back and left the room. When he came back 45 minutes later, he said Alex was on his stomach. The boy was pronounced dead two days later.

"He wasn't breathing anymore," Curtis said. "He was face down with the blanket wrapped around his head."

Apparently unconvinced, Kostas asked Curtis to describe how tightly he had wrapped Alex in the blanket.

Replied Curtis: "I wrapped him up tight, well, somewhat tight . . . I wrapped him up so he wouldn't get out of the bed. . . . I didn't think he would die. I didn't think it would kill him."

The Pasco-Pinellas Medical Examiner's Office determined that Alex died of asphyxiation. Dr. Marie Hansen, an associate medical examiner, testified Thursday there were "multiple scenarios that could have caused the asphyxia," but the most likely, based on information provided to her by detectives, was that Jim Curtis wrapped the blanket so tightly around the boy that he couldn't breathe.

"I couldn't find an accidental manner of asphyxiation," Hansen said.

A Pasco grand jury on Oct. 25 indicted the 26-year-old Curtis on first-degree murder charges. Prosecutors have announced their intention to seek the death penalty in the case.

Jennifer Curtis, 25, has not been charged.

Other details emerged for the first time at Thursday's hearing.

New Port Richey police Detective Jackie Pehote testified that Jim Curtis also is under investigation in an unrelated child abuse case. Pasco Sheriff's Office detectives are investigating whether Curtis abused a 4-year-old family member in 1999, Pehote said.

The family member, whose name the Times is withholding, was treated at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg for seizures and a broken collarbone, Pehote said.

Curtis did not ask for an attorney when New Port Richey detectives questioned him on Sept. 29 about Alex's death. But that same day, when the questioning turned to the 1999 child abuse incident, Curtis asked for an attorney and declined to make a statement.

On Thursday, Pehote also recounted the events, as described to her by Curtis, of the hours that preceded Alex being wrapped in the blanket.

Earlier on Sept. 25, Curtis told Pehote, Alex had fallen in the bathtub and hit his head. But the boy appeared fine, so Jim and Jennifer Curtis took the boy with them on some errands.

They were browsing the aisles at the Home Depot in New Port Richey when Alex soiled his pants, Curtis told Pehote.

"They were both frustrated," Pehote said of the Curtises. After Alex soiled himself, Jim Curtis pinched the boy's face hard enough to leave bruises on his cheeks, Pehote said.

"They were having some behavior problems with him and they didn't know how to deal with him," Pehote said of Alex, whose medical problems included fetal alcohol syndrome, cerebral palsy, meningitis and hemophilia.

Webb is awaiting written arguments from both sides on the probable cause matter and he could issue a ruling as early as next week.

- Cary Davis covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is cbdavis@sptimes.com.

Abstract (Document Summary)

It was Sept. 29, and authorities were investigating the death two days earlier of Alex Boucher, the 3-year-old disabled boy the Curtises were trying to adopt. Having just learned that an autopsy had concluded Alex was the victim of a homicide, New Port Richey detectives now considered [Jim Curtis] and [Jennifer Curtis] the two prime suspects.

New Port Richey police Detective Jackie Pehote testified that Jim Curtis also is under investigation in an unrelated child abuse case. Pasco Sheriff's Office detectives are investigating whether Curtis abused a 4-year-old family member in 1999, Pehote said.

"They were both frustrated," Pehote said of the Curtises. After Alex soiled himself, Jim Curtis pinched the boy's face hard enough to leave bruises on his cheeks, Pehote said.

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