MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Citing cellphone location data and an inquiry about increasing life insurance coverage, prosecutors charged a Minnesota man on Tuesday with killing his 10-year-old son who had vanished nearly a month before his body was found in the Mississippi River.
Pierre Barlee Collins, 33, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of his son, Barway. A criminal complaint cited cellphone location data that police said places him, on the day the boy disappeared, near the spot in the river where the fourth-grader's body was found last weekend.
The complaint also said Collins, who is unemployed, holds two life insurance policies on his son. Collins called the insurer on one of the policies two days before Barway's disappearance to ask about raising the coverage from $30,000 to $50,000, according to the complaint.
Collins, who does not have an attorney, has said he is innocent. A family spokesman, Pastor Harding Smith, said earlier Tuesday that Collins maintains he had nothing to do with Barway's death and hoped the community would withhold judgment.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman acknowledged at a news conference that authorities didn't have a possible motive beyond the insurance. But he added: "We think it's a strong circumstantial case."
"We have set forth in the complaint the fact that he had life insurance out on Barway. We've set forth in the complaint that two days before Barway was missing, he sought to increase it by another $20,000. And thirdly, that he also had another policy on himself and all of his children, so that he would get at least $50,000 if Barway accidentally died. Let me underline 'accidentally,'" Freeman said.
He said he hoped to ask a grand jury for a first-degree murder indictment.
The criminal complaint said Barway's feet were bound by duct tape and duct tape was wrapped around his torso. His body had been dumped in a storm water cistern, and was found after it came loose and entered the river. Freeman said authorities do not know how he died or if he was dead when he was put in the water.
Of the cellphone data, Freeman said: "Frankly, no one has a reason to be there unless they're fishing." Collins had no fishing equipment, the prosecutor said.
In police interviews, Collins denied ever being at the river and could not explain why his phone was tracked there, according to the complaint.
Collins remained in jail Tuesday, with a court appearance scheduled for Wednesday. Prosecutors said they would ask for $2 million bail.
Volunteers staged several searches for Barway, and on Saturday, searchers from a Boy Scout troop found his body about 10 feet from the river's edge in Brooklyn Center.
Barway was last seen after school on March 18. Video surveillance from his suburban Crystal apartment complex showed he was about to go inside, but then turned as if he was called over to the parking lot by someone he knew, and he walked away, police said last month.
Video from a school van showed that right before he was dropped off, he had said that he saw his dad and a man who he referred to as his "uncle" nearby. Freeman said authorities believe Pierre Collins acted alone but have not been able to identify the uncle.
In a March 25 interview with the Star Tribune, Pierre Collins said he was not home when his son disappeared and he was upset to be considered a suspect.
"I've been working with the police just to bring my son home," he told the newspaper. "I will do whatever they want just so Barway can come home. I have nothing to do with Barway's missing."
His wife and Barway's stepmother, Yamah Collins, also said she and her husband didn't know who took the boy, and they pleaded for his safe return.
The family told the Star Tribune that Barway emigrated from his home in Liberia to stay with his father in 2011. The father said he wanted "to make him better" and for Barway to eventually go to college. Barway's mother lives in Liberia.
Barway attended Evergreen Park World Cultures Community School in Brooklyn Center, where Principal Sheryl Ray said he was a "very friendly student" with "a broad smile" and many friends.