ODESSA, Texas (AP) — Prosecutors said Monday that they won't charge a Texas couple in the death of a 3-year-old adopted boy from Russia, a case that has become the latest flashpoint in the debate over whether American families should be allowed to adopt Russian children.
Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland said his office would not charge Alan and Laura Shatto in the Jan. 21 death of Max Alan Shatto, who was born Maxim Kuzmin.
"The grand jury determined there was insufficient evidence to charge them with anything," Bland said at a news conference.
Laura Shatto told authorities she found Max unresponsive outside their Gardendale, Texas, home while he was playing with his younger brother, Ector County Sheriff Mark Donaldson has said. The boy was pronounced dead at a hospital a short time later. Preliminary autopsy results indicated Shatto had bruises on several parts of his body, though four doctors reviewing the final autopsy result ruled his death to be accidental.
Bland, the top prosecutor in Ector County, about 350 miles west of Dallas, previously said that the bruises on Max's body appeared to be self-inflicted, and that no drugs were found in Max's system.
Russian authorities and state-run media have blamed the Shattos for Max's death and used the case as justification for a recently enacted ban on all American adoptions of Russian children. Russia's Investigative Committee has said it has opened its own investigation. It's unclear whether the committee could charge the Shatto family or force their prosecution.
U.S. State Department officials and adoption agency advocates have called for caution.
The Russian government passed the ban in December in retaliation for a new U.S. law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators. The ban also reflects lingering resentment over the perceived mistreatment of some of the 60,000 children Americans have adopted over the last two decades. At least 20 of those children have died, and reports of abuse have garnered attention in Russia.
Foreign Ministry official Konstantin Dolgov has called Max's death "yet another case of inhuman treatment of a Russian child adopted by American parents."
Texas Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins said the agency was investigating allegations that Max was subject to physical abuse and neglect but had not determined whether those allegations were true. The agency that processed the Shattos' adoption, the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth, was cleared in a separate state investigation to find out whether it followed all guidelines.
The Shattos adopted Max and his biological half-brother, 2-year-old Kristopher, from the same orphanage in western Russia. Since Max's death, Kristopher has remained with his adoptive parents.
Russian state media have featured the boys' biological mother, Yulia Kuzmina, who lost custody over negligence and serious drinking problems.
In a tightly choreographed Feb. 21 interview on state television, Kuzmina insisted that Russian custody officials seized her children unfairly and said that she wanted to be reunited with her other son, born Kirill Kuzmin. She said she had given up drinking, found a job and pledged to fight to get the boy back.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has said it is necessary "to temper emotions" over the case, and U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has called for "sensational exploitations of human tragedy to end and for professional work between our two countries to grow, on this issue and many others."