KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The death of a 19-month-old boy who drowned in a bathtub recently was an accident, not a homicide, the Jackson County medical examiner's office has ruled.
After Jermane Johnson Jr. died on June 3, a 5-year-old girl reportedly told Kansas City police that she held the toddler's head underwater to kill him. Authorities said they never intended to prosecute the girl, and referred the case to Jackson County Family Court, where she could get counseling.
Kansas City police said they learned last week that the medical examiner office ruled the death an accident, The Kansas City Star reported Friday. Police said they were waiting for the autopsy report before adding the death to the city's 2011 homicide tally. Now, they say they won't add it.
According to a police report obtained by the newspaper, the 5-year-old girl told detectives she pulled Jermane into the tub to drown him "because he doesn't go to sleep." A 16-year-old girl with a mental disability was the oldest person home at the time.
The autopsy report, written by Tracy J. Dyer, a visiting pathologist from Texas, said Jermane "drowned in a bathtub while without appropriate adult supervision at the home." The report does not mention the 5-year-old-girl or her reported statements to police
Medical examiner rulings are important because they can affect life insurance and state benefits. The proper classification of child deaths is important for allocating resources and targeting prevention strategies.
The autopsy ruling surprised and disappointed Jermane's aunt, Jerelyn Normal of St. Louis, who said she considered the case a homicide and said the ruling "adds insult to injury."
"It's not an accident. It was done by the hands of another - the definition of homicide," she said.
"This beautiful little boy is gone, and no one is held responsible for him not being here today. That's something I'm not willing to accept," Normal said.
She said the ruling could also prevent the family from receiving benefits to pay for the funeral. She said the state's crime victims' compensation fund will only help in cases that are crimes, not accidents.
"It minimizes the facts," she said. "It's just another statistic of a child who drowned in a bathtub, when that's not what happened. You hear about accidental drownings, but this isn't one of those. It's a completely different monster."