Child fentanyl death case moves to higher court.

October 19, 2022

Jacob Schutter with his attorney Ryan Good.

Child fentanyl death case moves to higher court.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — The criminal case against a 32-year-old Rothbury man charged with manslaughter and child abuse for the death of his 4-year-old son was bound over from Oceana County’s 79th District Court Tuesday, Oct. 18, to 51st Circuit Court.

Jacob Scott Schutter and the boy’s mother, Jodi Michelle Neino, 29, are both criminally charged in connection to Eli Jude Schutter’s July 1 death. 

Det. Richard Parmer of the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office testifies.

Judge John Middlebrook ruled Tuesday that the prosecution met its burden of proof to move the case up to the higher court. “The child obviously ingested fentanyl,” said the judge. “The house was in deplorable shape,” he said of the single-wide trailer on Clay Road near Rothbury where the couple and their seven children, including an infant, lived. Emergency personnel responded to their home when Eli was not breathing. They found horrific living conditions, including drugs scattered throughout the trailer.

“This is similar to when someone leaves a loaded gun within a foot of a child’s sleeping area,” Judge Middlebrook said of the drugs. Testimony during Tuesday’s preliminary exam focused on a black box containing a substance that later tested to be fentanyl that was found within 2 feet of Eli’s pillow. 

Schutter and Neino are being prosecuted separately. Her preliminary exam began last week and continues Nov. 1. Schutter is lodged in the Oceana County Jail after skipping a court appearance and then being arrested for operating under the influence of drugs. Neino remains free on bond.

Schutter is represented by defense attorney Ryan Good, and Neino is represented by defense attorney Julie Springstead-Waltz. Questioning of witnesses from both attorneys during the preliminary exams aims at establishing who of the two defendants “owned” that black box which contained the fentanyl that killed Eli.

The court heard testimony Tuesday from most of the same witnesses who were called to the stand last week during Neino’s preliminary exam, including the forensic pathologist who conducted Eli’s autopsy.

Dr. Jared Brooks once again testified that Eli’s cause of death was from “the toxic effects of fentanyl and para fluorofentanyl.”

During Dr. Brooks’s cross examination, attorney Good asked him how the drugs entered his system. “I can’t say how the substances entered his system,” answered the doctor.

Grant Township Fire Chief Dan Yost, who was the first emergency responder on scene the day of Eli’s death, took the stand again. 

Grant Township Fire Chief Dan Yost is sworn in before testifying. Deputy Dave Gregwer is pictured in the background.

“We got a call for a 4-year-old not breathing,” said Chief Yost. Eli had been sleeping with Schutter on a small couch in the living room when the dad awakened to find his son not breathing and called 911. Neino was sleeping in the master bedroom.

Yost testified that Schutter told him Eli had a toothache “and they had been pushing puss out of it.”

Deputy Jeff Brown of the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office also responded to the scene that day.

“It smelled like a dumpster in the city in the summer,” the deputy testified of the deplorable conditions. “Flies were everywhere.”

Brown described how difficult it was to wake Neino who was sound asleep amidst all the chaos of sirens from emergency vehicles at the scene. Once he finally was able to awaken her after shining a flashlight in her face and shaking her arm, she was argumentative with police. “Her words were ‘get the f— out of my house,’” said the deputy. “We observed a small black container that was approximately 2 feet from where Eli was sleeping. We found narcotics throughout the house.”

Brown said police found drugs in the living room, kitchen and Jodi’s bedroom. The black container found near Eli had no lock and neither did the other containers, he said. 

The court then heard testimony from Det. Mark Hiddema who interviewed both defendants at the hospital following Eli’s death. Schutter told him that Eli had “a white foamy substance from his mouth,” Hiddema testified.

“(Neino) informed me that both she and Jacob use methamphetamine and heroin. She told me that when she buys heroin, it’s usually fentanyl.” However, Schutter told the detective that he no longer used drugs besides marijuana.

It is “standard practice” for police to conduct an investigation after a child dies, Det. Richard Parmer testified. “I was ultimately told to ‘get the f— out’ of the residence and got a search warrant,” said the detective.

Inside the black box that was found within 2 feet of Eli was “a greenish, bluish, pinkish substance and a white crystal substance.” The “greenish, bluish, pinkish” substance tested as fentanyl at the Michigan State Police crime lab, he said.

Parmer testified that drug dealers cut heroin with fentanyl, because it’s cheaper. He also said dealers are putting colors in the substance “to add more business — like kids.”

“Is it common for children to put colorful things in their mouth?” Oceana County Prosecutor Joseph Bizon asked. “It is,” Parmer answered.

Det. Richard Parmer, Oceana County Prosecutor Joseph Bizon, defense attorney Ryan Good and defendant Jacob Schutter.

He said there were four black drug boxes in the house, and none of them had locks. “There was no indication of whose box was whose.”

The drug box found in Neino’s room tested positive for methamphetamine, said Parmer. 

“To my knowledge, there was no evidence that the parents intended for their child to die,” said Bizon at the conclusion of the hearing. However, Schutter is responsible for the death for the way he and Neino stored their “dangerous drugs,” he said. “They were negligent, and now a 4-year-old child is dead.” 

“I ask the court to deny a bind-over on both counts,” said attorney Good. “There has not been any testimony how he got ahold of the substance. It’s ‘he said, she said.’” 

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Deputy Jeff Brown testifies.

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