Kenneth Steinhoff was placed in a hospital waiting room by himself on the day his girlfriend's young son was hurt, not because he was being detained but to calm an increasingly volatile situation, a Lucas County sheriff's detective testified yesterday.
Mr. Steinhoff, 27, of 424 Aberdeen Drive, Springfield Township, is charged with one count each of murder and involuntary manslaughter for the Aug. 9 death of his girlfriend's toddler.
Yesterday, Lucas County Common Pleas Judge James Bates heard testimony from investigators about statements Mr. Steinhoff made about the incident.
"The tensions were very high to the point where I had to separate the families," Detective Patrick LaPlante said, adding that he separated the families of the toddler's mother, his biological father, and Mr. Steinhoff.
Defense attorney Merle Dech filed a motion to suppress the statements made by Mr. Steinhoff to investigators, claiming Mr. Steinhoff was in custody at the time of the interview but had not been read his rights.
Investigators testified yesterday that Mr. Steinhoff was treated like every other witness who is asked to give a statement.
He was not placed under arrest until after he changed his story about how young Jason Brauer sustained his injuries, Detective LaPlante said.
Authorities said Mr. Steinhoff called 911 and told emergency personnel the 22-month-old boy had fallen off a bunk bed.
He admitted later that he had hit the boy, who then hit his head on a cupboard, then the floor, authorities said.
The child, son of Susan Brauer, was taken to Toledo Hospital with skull fractures, broken vertebrae, and damage to his lungs. He died the next day.
Mr. Dech said despite contentions that Mr. Steinhoff was not in custody at the time of his statements, investigators conducted an interrogation. Specifically, he said that it did not look like his client had "unrestrained freedom" while being questioned by detectives.
"The question as to whether or not there was an interrogation, here we have a written statement made by my client in response to a request from a sheriff's deputy. The oral statement clearly is in response to questions by detectives," Mr. Dech said.
County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Loisel said the sheriff's office was investigating an assault and questioned witnesses about what took place. He pointed out that the toddler's mother and another family member also were questioned in a manner similar to Mr. Steinhoff.
After the hearing, tearful family members spoke about the young boy who was known to his family as L.J., or Little Jason.
Kim Brauer, the mother of Jason Brauer, the child's biological father, said Mr. Steinhoff isn't aware of what he took away. "I just can't understand. He was a perfect child," Ms. Brauer said.
Mr. Brauer's sister, Heather Gariepy, said that Little Jason would have turned 2 years old on Oct. 4, a day that her family will surely find sorrowful.
"It's a young life that's never going to grow up and be something," she said. "We just want justice for my nephew."
Judge Bates said he would issue a written ruling on the motion to suppress and set an Oct. 9 date for Mr. Steinhoff's trial.
On his way out of court yesterday, a shackled Mr. Steinhoff spoke softly to his own family members, asking that they take care of his children.
Mr. Steinhoff's family could not be reached for comment after the hearing.
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