Doctor testifies that fentanyl caused 4-year-old boy’s death.  

October 12, 2022

Jodi Neino listens to testimony.

Doctor testifies that fentanyl caused 4-year-old boy’s death.  

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — The pathologist who conducted the autopsy of 4-year-old Eli Jude Schutter testified during a preliminary exam in Oceana County’s 79th District Court Tuesday, Oct. 11, that the little boy’s cause of death was from the toxic effects of para-fluorofentanyl and fentanyl.

Eli’s parents Jacob Scott Schutter, 32, and Jodi Michelle Neino, 29, both face charges of manslaughter and second-degree child abuse in connection to his July 1 death.

Neino, who is free on bond, appeared in court Tuesday with her court-appointed attorney, Julie Springstead

Deputy Jeff Brown takes the stand.

Waltz. Schutter, who is lodged in the Oceana County Jail without bond, is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary exam next Tuesday, Oct. 18. His bond was revoked for skipping his last court hearing.

The police report that details the investigation of Eli’s death reveals “uninhabitable” living conditions in the single-wide trailer where the little boy, his six siblings — including an infant — and their parents lived on Clay Road near Rothbury. 

“The house was disgusting,” said Oceana County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jeff Brown who testified Tuesday.

The children have since been removed from the couple’s home by Child Protective Services. Testimony Tuesday detailed investigators finding drugs and drug paraphernalia throughout the home.

Julie Springstead-Waltz shows Det. Mark Hiddema a photo of the black box found near Eli.

Jared Brooks, a forensic pathologist, appeared in court via Zoom video conferencing. 

“The toxicology results are a cause of death,” said Dr. Brooks. “These drugs repress the respiratory system, and they are very, very strong and very, very potent. This is the cause of the death.” Brooks said.

The toxicology results came from a blood draw of Eli’s 35-pound body that tested positive for “a variety of substances,” said Dr. Brooks, including caffeine, para-fluorofentanyl, neura-fentanyl and fentanyl.”

“Do you believe that was fatal?” Oceana County Prosecutor Joseph Bizon asked. “Yes,” the doctor answered. 

“What was the cause?” 

“The toxic effects of para-fluorofentanyl and fentanyl.”

As a body metabolizes the drug, it produces para-fluorofentanyl, the doctor explained.

Grant Township Fire Chief Dan Yost, who was the first emergency responder on scene, also testified Tuesday. “We got a call of a 4-year-old not breathing,” said Chief Yost.

Yost said it was extremely difficult to get through the front door of the trailer due to so much debris on the floor blocking the door. He advised other emergency responders to use a different entrance.

“The child was limp, lying on the couch,” said Yost. Eli was pale and had no pulse, he said. Yost immediately began CPR. 

Defense attorney Julie Springstead with her client, Jodi Neino

Deputy Brown described during his testimony the deplorable living conditions in the trailer. He said the ceiling was caving in above bunk beds in one of the bedrooms, and there were no blankets on the beds. The other bedroom also had bunk beds, which were so full of stuff they couldn’t be used. He said the floors were covered with debris and food particles. The bath tub was full of items and could not be used.

A large pile of garbage was in the middle of the kitchen, and the kitchen sink was full of moldy dishes. 

Brown went into the master bedroom that was “floor-to-ceiling full of clothing and junk.” 

Brown described how difficult it was to wake Neino who was asleep in the master bedroom amidst all the chaos of sirens from emergency vehicles at the scene.

He knocked on the door and got no response. He eventually opened the door, and she was still sleeping. He shined a flashlight in her face, and still unresponsive. He shook her a little — no response. “I informed her there was a medical emergency. I made the assumption that she obviously wasn’t just sleeping.”

Once she finally came out of her bedroom, she was extremely argumentative, yelling at police, Brown said.

“I observed a multitude of glass pipes that had residue in them.”

Oceana County Sheriff’s Office Det. Richard Parmer, who was also on scene that day, testified that drugs and drug paraphernalia were found throughout the home.

About two feet from where Eli was lying, an unlocked black box containing drugs and paraphernalia was found, Parmer said. The small black box contained “multiple glass pipes and glass vials that tested to be drugs.” Another similar box was found on Neino’s bed, he said.

Drugs and drug-related items were found in a kitchen cabinet; in the master bedroom; and “scattered about” in the living room. 

Det. Parmer said that when he arrived to search the house, Neino said, “‘Do you want to blame me for my child’s death?’ She said ‘get the f— out of my house.’” 

Julie Springstead cross examines Det. Richard Parmer.

Armed with a search warrant, the detective returned to the house where he found “multiple pipes and devices, methamphetamine and straws for snorting.”

In the box found near Eli, he noted “a crystal white substance and another greenish, pink-colored substance and some straws and pipes.” The white crystal substance was confirmed by the crime lab as meth, and the greenish pink substance was fentanyl, he said.

Defense attorney Springstead told Judge John Middlebrook that evidence is being withheld and that the defense was being “sandbagged.”

“I have not gotten those lab results,” she said of the black box items. “I would like whoever is in charge of this process to be chastised.”

“When we get it, we turn it over to Ms. Springstead,” said Prosecutor Bizon of the sharing of evidence through the discovery process. 

Springstead questioned who the black box found near Eli belonged to and why no fingerprints were taken on the box. 

“The box by the couch was Jacob’s and not hers.” 

Parmer said taking fingerprints on such items is often inconclusive, and it is a high risk to police officers to handle them.

“There have been cases of police officers getting really sick from touching fentanyl.”

Springstead called Oceana County Sheriff’s Office Det. Mark Hiddema to the stand. “Do you have any knowledge of fentanyl found in my client’s bedroom?” she asked. “No, I don’t,” Hiddema answered. 

The detective said he interviewed Neino at the hospital following Eli’s death. During the interview, she told Hiddema that she snorted heroin at 3 a.m. the day of Eli’s death and then snorted meth after he was transported to the hospital. She told the detective that both she and Jacob use heroin and meth and that “she had an idea” the heroin they were using was actually fentanyl.

Springstead asked the judge for a continuance to review the additional evidence that was handed to her prior to the hearing. 

“I am not attempting to circumvent it and will continue to provide the evidence,” said Bizon. 

“Because she was just handed discovery, we will adjourn to Nov. 1,” said the judge. He reminded Neino to not use any drugs, which is a condition of her bond, and to abide by her other bond conditions. 

Manslaughter is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and second-degree child abuse carries a maximum 10-year sentence.

 

Det. Parmer, Prosecutor Bizon, Defense attorney Springstead-Waltz and defendant Jodi Neino.

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