State seeks death penalty in boy's death

Relates to:
Date: 2000-12-15

Prosecutors considered the child's age in the case of a man accused of killing the 3-year-old boy he planned to adopt.

Prosecutors announced they will seek the death penalty against James Curtis, who is accused of killing the 3-year-old boy he planned to adopt.

Curtis, 26, of 5529 Lasalle Court in New Port Richey, was indicted by a Pasco County grand jury last month on first-degree murder charges.

Police say Curtis wrapped Alex Boucher so tightly in a blanket on Sept. 25 that the boy died from asphyxiation. Curtis had grown angry with Alex because the mentally and physically disabled boy had soiled himself, according to police reports.

Before wrapping the boy in the blanket, Curtis grabbed Alex's face hard enough to leave bruises, police said.

Prosecutors filed papers with the court Monday indicating their intention to seek the death penalty if Curtis is convicted. Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis said prosecutors based their decision on "statutory aggravating factors." One key factor, Halkitis said, is that the case involves the death of a child under age 12.

But, Halkitis said, "That doesn't mean we won't change our mind before trial."

Curtis and his wife brought Alex to Florida only a week before the boy's death. Alex was a ward of the state of Connecticut and had been living with relatives in Maine. The Connecticut Department of Children and Families allowed James and Jennifer Curtis to take temporary custody of Alex because the agency feared the boy was in danger of being abused in the Maine home.

However, Connecticut DCF caseworkers did not wait for Florida authorities to complete required background checks before allowing the Curtises to bring Alex to New Port Richey. Had they waited, they would have learned that Curtis was under investigation by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office for brandishing a gun in June during a neighborhood dispute.

Connecticut DCF has been the subject of widespread criticism for acting too hastily, and last week, after conducting an exhaustive investigation of the case, the agency suspended four employees without pay.

The internal investigation found that the caseworker assigned to Alex had obtained a report from Maine authorities that said Curtis was himself a victim of severe childhood abuse - a fact that might have disqualified him from being an adoptive parent - but she did not pass that information along to supervisors.

The report also faulted high-level agency supervisors for not ensuring the case was handled properly or given the attention it deserved.

"Let me be straight about this: DCF made a bad call in this case," said Kristine Regaglia, commissioner of the Connecticut agency. "But all staff conducted themselves in what they believed were the best interests of the child."

If Curtis, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, is convicted of first-degree murder, a jury would vote on whether he should die for the crime. A judge would have the ultimate say on the sentence. Under Florida law the judge must give the jury's recommendation great weight.

Curtis' defense lawyer, Bob Attridge, declined to comment on the case, saying he has not yet received any evidence from prosecutors.

- Information from the Hartford Courant was used in this report.

Times staff writer 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.

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Abstract (Document Summary)

Police say Curtis wrapped Alex Boucher so tightly in a blanket on Sept. 25 that the boy died from asphyxiation. Curtis had grown angry with Alex because the mentally and physically disabled boy had soiled himself, according to police reports.

Curtis and his wife brought Alex to Florida only a week before the boy's death. Alex was a ward of the state of Connecticut and had been living with relatives in Maine. The Connecticut Department of Children and Families allowed [James Curtis] and Jennifer Curtis to take temporary custody of Alex because the agency feared the boy was in danger of being abused in the Maine home.

Connecticut DCF caseworkers did not wait for Florida authorities to complete required background checks before allowing the Curtises to bring Alex to New Port Richey. Had they waited, they would have learned that Curtis was under investigation by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office for brandishing a gun in June during a neighborhood dispute.

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