By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HAMILTON - Did a 13-year-old boy intend to harm his young half-brother or was he simply unable to cope with the responsibility of babysitting four younger siblings?
Those questions are at the heart of a case in which a teen is accused of murder and domestic violence in the death of a 13-month-old, said Brad Carmella, a court-appointed attorney for the teen.
Carmella on Wednesday entered a plea for his client in Butler County Juvenile Court denying the charge. The boy walked into the courtroom with his dark hair mussed and his brow furrowed. He sat silently during the hearing but spoke briefly to Carmella.
After the hearing, Carmella told reporters that "a situation arose" involving the toddler late Monday night, and his client "attempted to do what he could."
Carmella declined to elaborate, except to say that the children's mother had taken the cordless telephone away from the home with her, leaving the teen no means to contact emergency crews for help.
Carmella said he didn't know why she took the phone. The teen's mother fidgeted with a rosary as her husband draped an arm around her shoulders after the Wednesday hearing.
City police have said they were investigating allegations that the 28-year-old mother left her five children - ages 13, 10, 3, 2 and 13 months - alone for prolonged periods. Police said charges are possible, but they released no additional information Wednesday.
Judge Ron Craft ordered the teen returned to the Juvenile Detention Center awaiting a July 2 hearing.
The mother, who sat on a rear bench in the courtroom, said she couldn't attend that hearing because she was planning to take the deceased child to Florida for burial.
A tear trickled down her cheek during the hearing.
On Tuesday, she told TV reporters that her teenage son had at first claimed the toddler fell down some stairs. But court records say the teen admitted to police he struck the baby with a metal bed rail.
The records also show that investigators noted bruises and healed burns on the toddler's body when it was examined early Tuesday at Fort Hamilton Hospital.
Dr. Richard P. Burkhardt, the county coroner, said he was not ready to rule on a cause of death Wednesday.
But he did say that a mark on the child's back could have been caused by a blow from an object such as the bed rail police described. He declined to reveal more about the child's condition.
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