US Parents Cleared in Death of Adopted Russian Boy

Date: 2013-03-19
Source: RIA Novosti

02:45 19/03/2013
Originally published at 1:07

ODESSA, TEXAS March 18 (RIA Novosti) – Prosecutors in Ector County, Texas said Monday that Alan and Laura Shatto, the American parents whose adopted Russian toddler died suddenly in January, will not be charged in the boy’s death.

“The grand jury was able to fully evaluate all the evidence and based on all the factors in this case they determined there was no evidence that either of the parents had committed a crime in relation to the death of Max Shatto,” Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland told RIA Novosti.

Max Shatto, also known by his Russian name, Maxim Kuzmin, was adopted along with his younger brother in November.

According to sheriff’s officials, ambulance workers who were called to the home on the afternoon of Jan. 21 found the older boy unresponsive and transported him to a hospital where he died a short time later.

Bland said Monday that Laura Shatto may have left the boys playing alone in a backyard for up to ten minutes.

“She had a bathroom emergency, and in light of the totality of the circumstances it was not unreasonable,” Bland said. “This death could have happened even if she was there,” he added.

Bland also said Max was smaller than most children his age, and was “relatively malnourished” when he was adopted just three months before his death. “That was one of the factors, he was more susceptible to injury, and on top of that he had this behavioral tendency to self-injure,” said Bland.

“We can’t say for sure what caused the death, but… this is not consistent with being hit with a fist or kicked. Most likely he fell from the playground equipment or the glider struck him in the stomach. It would not have taken much force to cause this particular injury to the child,” he added.

The medical examiner’s report found Max died from a laceration caused by blunt force trauma to his abdomen. The report also found that bruises on his body were consistent with self-injury.

The death came just weeks after Russia enacted a ban on Americans adopting Russian children, in part because of concerns about previous deaths of adopted Russian children. But the ban is also widely seen as a response to Washington’s passage of the Magnitsky Act, introducing sanctions on Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses.

Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) is still investigating Max Shatto’s death Bland said, but he added he does not believe it will result in charges against the parents.
Bland said under advice from the Texas Attorney General, he had not turned over the records of Max’s death to Russian officials because of the ongoing CPS investigation.
“It’s normal when a 3-year-old child dies to want to hold somebody accountable but the evidence in this case does not suggest that someone should be held criminally liable,” Bland said. “There’s nothing to suggest these people did anything to harm this child, it’s just a very tragic accident.”

Russia’s child rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, has publicly accused the adoptive mother of killing the boy and giving him “psychotropic substances.”
Russia’s Investigative Committee has said it is conducting its own investigation.

Updated with new information and new quotes from an interview with District Attorney Bobby Bland, who provided greater detail about the grand jury findings.

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