Couple suspected in baby's death in court

December 31, 2007 8:48:19 PM PST
A couple in Johnston County, accused of killing a seven-month-old baby, appeared before a judge Monday.

Investigators say Katherine Strickland, 26, and her boyfriend Jeffrey Parker, 26, killed Strickland's son, Joshua Tart.

Authorities say Parker gave conflicting stories in October about showering the baby and later dropping the child in the bathroom.

Monday morning in court, Jeffrey Parker faced the judge first. Park and Strickland are charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Both sides of the family watched on with difficulty. "I'm just here for Joshua and I loved him. He was a large part of my heart," said Kenneth Tart, Joshua's grandfather.

According to an autopsy report released Friday, Joshua Quinn Tart died of "complications of drowning" on November 1 after spending two days on a ventilator at Wake Med hospital in Raleigh.

Investigators say Tart's mother, Katherine Strickland, 26, and her then boyfriend, Jeffrey Parker,26, called 911 to their Newton Grove home on October 30. When paramedics arrived, the baby boy wasn't breathing. Initially, the couple told investigators the child was in the shower with Parker when he was injured.

Dixie Hepler, Katherine Strickland's mother said, "He was giving Joshua a bath, other than that, all we know is what the preliminary autopsy and the investigative detective told us, he did not die from drowning, it wasn't ruled out, no blunt force trauma to the head, and he assured Katherine everything was ok."

"I've got compassion for her family," Kenneth Tart said, "But I don't have no forgiveness right now because they turned their back on him."

Dixie Hepler says her daughter did nothing wrong. "She was a single parent, she's a registered nurse, she worked her fingers to the bone trying to provide for this baby."

Both Parker and Strickland will be assigned a court appointed attorney.

Investigators say the couple was recently married a few weeks ago. They have both been charged with involuntary manslaughter and are being held on $300,000 bond at the Johnston County Jail.


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