The parents of an 11-month-old boy pleaded guilty this week to administering heroin to their baby son, who died in September 2008.
The pleas ended a four-year investigation into the unexplained death of "Baby JM," Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said.
Denise Manco, 35, and Rondell Moore, 37, each pleaded guilty in Ocean County Superior Court before Judge Rochell Gizinski on Jan. 7 to one charge of second degree manslaughter in connection with the death of their infant son.
Seaside Heights police and emergency responders went to the home on Sept. 12, 2008 on a report of an unresponsive child, Ford said.
The baby was taken to Community Medical Center in Toms River, where he was later pronounced dead. The autopsy on the baby was inconclusive, but the toxicology results showed the presence of heroin in the child, Ford said.
“In October 2012, we developed new and credible information which indicated that ingestion of the heroin by the child was not accidental, but rather occurred as a result of an intentional act or acts by the parents," she said.
The two were indicted by an Ocean County Grand Jury on second-degree manslaughter charges, recklessly causing the baby's death, child endangerment and possession of a controlled dangerous substance, Ford said.
"...both defendants admitted to placing heroin in the baby’s mouth and rubbing it on the baby’s gums because he was teething," she said. "This finding was consistent with the autopsy and toxicological results conducted and reviewed by the medical examiner, Dr. Hydow Park, who determined that the baby died from acute heroin intoxication."
Both are slated to be sentenced before Judge Gizinski on Feb. 22.
"I would commend Detective Steve Korman of the Seaside Heights Police Department and Detective Sergeant Carlos Trujillo-Tovar of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office for their diligence in pursuing this investigation into the death of Baby JM," she said..
The state agreed to dismiss the child endangerment and drug possession charges in exchange for the guilty plea, Ford said.
Both could face up to ten years in prison and are subject to the state's No Early Release Act, which mandates they serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before being considered for parole, she said.
Moore also admitted to an unrelated charge of possession of CDS with the intent to distribute during a September 2012 arrest, Ford said.
The case is being prosecuted by Senior Assistant Prosecutor Michael R. Weatherstone. Detective Steve Korman from the Seaside Heights Police Department, Detective Sergeant Carlos Trujillo-Tovar from the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office and Detective Eric Skieczius from the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department Criminalistics Investigations Unit were the lead investigators on the case.