HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A city couple have pleaded guilty to all charges in the starvation death of their 9-year-old son.
Jarrod and Kimberly Tutko pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and child endangerment Monday morning as their homicide trial was about to begin.
The Tutkos additionally pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and child endangerment charges involving their 10-year-old daughter. The girl was said to be hours from death when police were called to the family’s home at 2119 Green Street on August 1, 2014.
Sentencing is scheduled December 16.
In a statement, Dauphin County Chief Deputy District Attorney Seán McCormack explained the reason for the third degree murder plea. He said prosecutors do not believe the Tutkos intended to kill Jarrod Tutko Jr., and first-degree murder requires proving intent. Third-degree murder is killing with malice.
“We found that the circumstances surrounding his death demonstrated an extreme indifference to the value of human life,” McCormack said in the statement. “At trial we intended to argue that these parents had a strong financial incentive, in the form of state money, to keep Jarrod Junior alive, however barely.”
“We asserted in court today that Jarrod Junior’s death was the result of Jarrod Tutko Sr. and Kimberly Tutko putting forth only a minimal effort to provide for their 9-year-old son’s basic needs and the inhumane manner in which they inexcusably confined their son to the hot, sparse, feces smeared third-floor bedroom where he spent the final months of his life.”
Prosecutors say the couple kept the boy locked in his room with no bed and no working lights. An autopsy found the boy weighed less than 17 pounds when he died of malnutrition and neglect. He suffered from Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes a range of developmental problems including learning disabilities and cognitive impairment.
According to charging documents, Mr. Tutko told police he found his son dead on the night of July 29, 2014 – two days after he last checked on the boy – but kept the death hidden from his wife for three days until she smelled the decomposing body.
Prosecutors said at a preliminary hearing last year that the couple received $710 a month in government assistance for the boy’s care. They said the Tutkos would not have received a check in August if the boy had died before the first day of the month.
A grand jury earlier this year found the couple also neglected Arianna Tutko to the point that she was “very close to death” on the night her brother’s emaciated and decomposing body was found in his filthy upstairs bedroom.
A Penn State Hershey Medical Center pediatrician told the grand jury that Arianna suffered from a severe brain injury and was completely dependent for all her care.
Due to her neglect, the doctor said Arianna had wax from her ears that was coming out onto her face, her eyes were matted shut from secretions and dirt, she had thick, filthy scales all over her body, and she looked as if she hadn’t been bathed in a very, very long time, the report states.
She and four other surviving Tutko children have since been placed into foster care.
The grand jury also found that Dauphin County Children and Youth Service was in complete disarray when it had a series of contacts with the family in the months before the death of Jarrod Tutko Jr.
According to the report, the staff was overworked and lacked adequate investigative training, and some abuse cases were dismissed as unfounded even when abuse was happening.