PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A 28-year-old man could be eligible to face the death penalty if he is indicted and then convicted of aggravated murder in the death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son, who passed away Thursday at a Portland hospital from critical brain injuries.
Joshua A. Howard remains in the Multnomah County Jail on charges that include attempted aggravated murder, attempted murder, first-degree assault and first-degree criminal mistreatment.
The boy was found unconscious Tuesday at a Southeast Portland motel room. He was taken to Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), where he died Thursday. Detectives with the Multnomah County Child Abuse Team and the Portland Police Bureau Homicide Unit are investigating whether Howard is directly responsible for the death.
For privacy reasons, KOIN is not identifying the child or his mother.
According to court documents filed Thursday, Howard allegedly admitted to detectives that he might have tossed or dropped the boy on his head in the bathroom of the motel room out of anger because the child had just vomited on the bed and was crying. The boy’s mother was not in the room at the time.
As of Friday morning, Howard has not been formally charged with actually causing the boy’s death. Officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told KOIN that is due to the fact that Howard made his first court appearance before the child passed away.
The boy died Thursday afternoon, after Multnomah County prosecutors had filed formal charges. They will now convene a grand jury, which could decide to charge him with aggravated murder, officials said.
Anyone convicted of aggravated murder, under Oregon law, is subject to the death penalty.
Portland police officers first responded to the Unicorn Motel, at 3040 SE 82nd Ave., on Tuesday night to investigate the possible abuse of a 2 ½ year old child.
The first officer on scene told homicide detectives that he was originally dispatched to the motel room to check on a child who was not breathing. The officer spoke with Howard, who told him that he was giving his girlfriend’s son a shower in the bathtub when he found him unconscious.
Howard told police that he put the child in the tub, turned on the shower and “left him alone to bath himself,” documents state. Howard told police that he was in the room when he heard a “thump” come from the bathroom. Howard said he went back to the bathroom and saw the child lying unconscious on the floor. Howard told police that is when he called 911.
The first officer told detectives that the tub was wet, “but the floor did not appear to be wet.” Another Portland police officer told investigators that when he entered the room, the boy was lying on his back, on the floor, in the middle of the room. The officer said he checked for a pulse and started performing CPR in the form of breaths until paramedics arrived.
The officer noticed the boy was dry and had marked bruising on his forehead and possible bruising on his torso. A third officer told detectives that he, too, noticed bruising on the child’s forehead as he was being loaded into an ambulance.
The child was rushed to OHSU, where doctors told officers the child had a pulse but had “no apparent brain activity, and had bleeding on (his) brain,” documents read.
Detectives with the Child Abuse Team and Homicide Unit interviewed Howard, who reiterated his story about leaving the victim in the shower and then hearing a “thud.”
A few hours later a second interview was conducted. The interview with detectives was videotaped and the suspect changed his story and stated “that he tossed or dropped the victim in the bathroom and that the victim might have hit his head on the toilet,” court documents state.
Howard described being “upset at the (child) because he had thrown up on the bed and was crying,” court documents state. Howard said that he closed the door and left the victim in the bathroom for a few minutes while he talked to the child’s mother on the phone. Howard returned to the bathroom, saw the child injured and put the boy in the bathtub with cold water to try to revive the boy, court documents state.
As the interview progressed, Howard “ultimately admitted that he dragged the victim into the bathroom and threw him with a lot of force into the front of the toilet,” court documents state. Howard said he left the bathroom because “he was so pissed that he didn’t even care,” court documents state. Howard also reportedly told detectives that “he deserved to be charged with murder and to receive the harshest punishment for what he had done to the victim.”
Detectives spoke with the child’s mother, who said that Howard would often hit the boy. Detectives said the mother told them that she would not intervene because she knew that if she did, Howard would be even more violent toward the boy.
Doctors told detectives that some of the child’s injuries included occipital skull fracture, a large acute subdural hemorrhage to the right side of the brain, brain swelling, a left jaw fracture and bruising throughout the child’s body.
Officials confirmed with KOIN that Howard is also subject of an investigation in Clatsop County. The exact nature of the case was not disclosed.
Howard remains in the Multnomah County Detention Center on $750,000 bail, a number officials do not believe he could post. His next court date has been scheduled for March 14.
Anyone who suspects a child may be a victim of physical or sexual abuse, or neglect, is urged to call the Child Abuse Hotline with the Oregon Department of Human Services at 503-731-3100. Life threatening situations should be immediately reported to 911.
– Brent Weisberg