Neglect Recorded Before Infant's Death

Published 04/23 2014 07:02PM

Updated 04/28 2014 11:31AM

EAST PEORIA – A coroner’s jury recently ruled an infant’s death from January as homicide, prompting further investigation from police and the Department of Children and Family Services.

Aspen Neal was nearly 4-months-old when she died in early January from suffocation. Sgt. Brian Despines from the East Peoria Police department voiced his concerns.

“Three-month-olds in general just don't stop breathing. So like I said that's why the investigation has taken a while.”

Despines said the night Aspen died she was home with her sister, step sister and step mother, Stephanie Kirby, now Tucker after marriage. Kirby told police she last saw the baby sleeping in a motorized swing and then found Aspen face down on the floor with a blanket around her neck four hours later.

“We don't have a clear understanding of what occurred yet,” Despines said.

That’s because Aspen’s step-mother is the only person who was there, and Despines says there is no physical evidence that corroborates the statement she gave to police.
“It says face-down, and that's what we're reported, but the fact they were moved from one apartment to the other, our officers, nor our detectives know that for sure.”

He said the big question is: how did an infant get from the swing onto the floor? The coroner’s notes state that there is no evidence that the swing ejected her, and that it’s unlikely Aspen got onto the floor on her own. The questions don't end there.

“There is a prior report involving Aspen that we're investigating as well,” Despines said.

This isn't the first time DCFS has gotten involved with Aspen. Their records show the child was taken away from her birth mother after she was indicated for neglect in October. Aspen's father, Josh Tucker was awarded custody. In November, DCFS records show Tucker was indicated for neglect after Aspen arrived at the hospital with a broken femur. During Aspen's autopsy in January, the coroner found old bone fractures and bruises that had already started to heal. The coroner says those were “inconstant with multiple accidental causes, and more consistent with blunt trauma or pressure applied to those areas.”

Despines is working to make the case rock solid.

“To make sure justice is served for aspen we have to take our time. We have to do it right we can't jump the gun and haphazard do what needs to be done.”

The other two children who were home the night of Aspen's death have been taken into protective custody by DCFS.
Aspen’s father, Josh Tucker is in the tazewel County Jail under a violation of bail bonds related to his original charge of aggravated domestic battery. Police say that is not related to Aspen's death. Tucker was not home the night aspen died.

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