Mom, 20, held in smothering death of infant son — (New Hampshire Union Leader)

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New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, NH)

January 5, 2000

Author: PAT GROSSMITH, Union Leader Staff

Jessica Fleetwood pressed the face of her 2-month-old son, Skyler, to her chest, held him there for 15 minutes as he struggled in her arms and then, once he was still, dropped him face down in his bassinet, according to court documents.
Fleetwood, of 269 Hanover St., Apt. 1R, was arrested yesterday and charged with second-degree assault in the death of her son Monday.  The 20-year-old single mother was arraigned yesterday morning in Manchester District Court and is being held on $100,000 cash bail with a probable cause hearing set for Jan. 18.According to an arrest affidavit filed in district court, Fleetwood told police that after smothering her son, she dropped him face down in the bassinet, his nose hitting the mattress. Then she said she turned his head to the left and went back to bed. She woke at about 10 a.m. Monday to find her infant son in the same position she had left him six hours earlier, according to the affidavit written by Manchester police detective John Patti.

Fleetwood then waited a half-hour before actually checking on her baby, first going to the bathroom and having a cigarette, Patti wrote. Finally realizing Skyler hadn’t wakened, she went to check on him.

“She discovered that he was stiff, had no pulse and his face was purple in color. She had hesitated physically checking his condition because she was fearful of what she might find. However, upon doing so, she stated that she was not surprised to find Skyler deceased,” wrote Patti.

Police initially believed they were responding to a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome case but later charged Fleetwood with the felony assault charge.

Assistant Attorney General Simon Brown said the investigation is continuing and the charge could be upgraded at a later time. Fleetwood, a heavyset woman with long brown hair and dark-colored oval glasses, sat quietly in the courtroom with her arms crossed against her chest, as if she were cold.

She said little but when she did, as in answering that she understood standard bail conditions as explained by Judge William Lyons, she spoke softly and used few words.

Fleetwood applied for a court-appointed attorney.

Brown had requested the high cash bail because of the severity of the crime, he told Lyons. He also said Fleetwood poses a risk of harm to the community and herself, having made statements to police in which she hinted at committing suicide.

In a written statement, Fleetwood, according to Patti’s affidavit, made reference to financial problems and how the denial of the biological father to accept responsibility for Skyler was bothering her.

She also wrote that she “felt to blame for all of my mother’s stress” and that while still feeling “upset and emotionally unleveled,” she “seized the opportunity while my son was in my arms and took out my frustration by smothering him into my chest.”

An autopsy on the infant’s body, conducted by the state medical examiner’s office in Concord yesterday, did not determine the cause of death, Brown said in the afternoon.

“There is no conclusion yet, but further work is being done,” he said. “The case is still under investigation.”

The night before Skyler’s death, Fleetwood spoke on the telephone to her current boyfriend, Ed Starck, 22, whom she has been dating four to five months, police said.

According to the affidavit, Starck told police that Fleetwood was taking Prozac for postpartum depression.  He also reported that for the past month and a half, Fleetwood had made mention of killing Skyler four times.

Monday afternoon, Starck was picked up by police and taken to the Elliot Hospital to see Fleetwood, who asked for him. In his statement, Starck said he asked Fleetwood if she killed the baby and she said she did not.  She told him the baby woke up crying about 4:30 a.m., she gave him a bottle and changed him. She then put him back to bed.

When she woke up in the morning, she told Starck, she went to the bathroom, had a smoke and then checked on the baby. She told him she “had to peel the infant off the bassinet. She told Starck that she believed Skyler was dead,” Patti wrote.

According to court documents, she called her mother, Michelle Fleetwood, with whom she lives, at work.

Ten minutes later, Fleetwood received a call from the 911 operator who told her to remove the child from the bassinet to examine him. Emergency personnel arrived soon after.

Firefighter David Anderson told police when firefighters first arrived at the apartment and identified themselves, they did not get a response. They went further into the apartment toward the living room area and saw a woman sitting on a chair holding an infant in her arms.

Anderson asked if she called the fire department and she responded with a “weak yes,” according to the court record.

Anderson said he immediately knew the baby was dead because of the coloring of the infant.  The infant’s face was blue and the skull area had spots of “pooling blood,” indicating lividity had set in.

Michelle Fleetwood, the infant’s grandmother, told police that Skyler had been ill recently. Skyler, she said, vomited blood last Wednesday after which the doctor’s office was called.

Michelle Fleetwood told police that Dr. Paula Leonard-Schwartz, a physician at the Manchester Family Health Center, recommended the child be given Pedialyte. Skyler was brought to the doctor’s office last Thursday and a follow-up visit was set for the following day, Friday, Dec. 31.

Michelle Fleetwood told police that Jessica went to the Dec. 31 appointment but left before Skyler was examined because Jessica believed people arriving after her were being seen first.

Michelle Fleetwood also said Skyler had been feeling better and he was able to hold down his food.