Parents plead guilty to murder in death of disabled son

AP News
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Posted: Oct 26, 2015 2:09 PM

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A couple charged with starving to death their disabled 9-year-old son inside a home of filth pleaded guilty Monday to third-degree murder and other charges.

Jarrod Tutko Sr., 39, pleaded guilty in Dauphin County Court to the murder charge as well as to child endangerment and concealing the death of Jarrod Tutko Jr. Kimberly Tutko, 40, pleaded guilty to murder and child endangerment in the boy's death.

The boy had a genetic disorder with autism-like symptoms. An autopsy determined that he weighed less than 17 pounds when his body was found in August 2014 in the family's Harrisburg home and that he died of malnutrition and neglect.

Police said the boy lived in a locked, feces-smeared room on the third floor of the home, and detective Rodney Shoeman testified last year that he smelled "a strong odor of decomposition" when he approached the residence. He said Kimberly Tutko told him that she tried unsuccessfully to combat the stench with mothballs and bleach, thinking it came from dead mice, and it wasn't until she asked her husband about it that he revealed that the child had died.

"There's something wrong with him. He passed away a couple days ago," the wife quoted her husband as saying, according to Shoeman.

The parents also pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and child endangerment related to their 10-year-old disabled daughter. Police investigating Jarrod's death found her in dire health. She and four other surviving Tutko children were placed in foster care, authorities said.

On Monday, both defendants stood before the judge in county prison uniforms, and Kimberly Tutko appeared to have been crying, PennLive.com reported. Before the plea deal, they had been scheduled for trial this week.

Neither defendant has an agreement with prosecutors on sentencing. Chief Deputy District Attorney Sean McCormack said sentencing guidelines call for a term of up to 20 years in prison for the third-degree murder charge.

McCormack told the judge during the hearing for Jarrod Tutko Sr. that prosecutors believe the case was third-degree murder — "a killing with malice."

But, he noted, prosecutors don't believe Tutko intended to kill the boy.

Kimberly Tutko's lawyer, Michael Palermo, said his client "took responsibility" for her actions.

"She understands there's a legal duty a parent has to a child," he said. "You can't shirk that duty.