Couple charged with death of daughter could lose two other children

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — A western Michigan couple charged in the death of their daughter also could lose their two other children.

The state Children's Protective Services has filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Seth Welch and Tatiana Fusari of Solon Township.

Seth Welch reacts while listening to his 911 call during his probable-cause hearing at 63rd District Court in Grand Rapids on Oct. 10, 2018. Welch and Tatiana Fusari were charged with felony murder and first-degree child abuse after their daughter, Mary, was found unresponsive in their Solon Township home. An autopsy found the cause of death was malnutrition and dehydration due to neglect by caregivers.

The petition was filed after the couple were charged with murder and child abuse in the death of their 10-month-old daughter, Mary Welch.

The baby died in August from malnutrition and dehydration due to neglect, ruled a medical examiner. She weighed 8 pounds at the time of her death.

Welch and Fusari have two other children, who are 4 and 2.

The couple are awaiting trial in Kent County Circuit Court. A date hasn't been scheduled yet.

During a probable-cause hearing in October, a judge seemed as struck by Welch's actions after the death as before it.

After the death, he waited 90 minutes before reporting it to the police, he told the dispatcher, according to a recording of the call played during the hearing.

Before calling the police, he called his attorney, he told the dispatcher.

"(She is) as dead as a doorknob," he told the dispatcher, according to the recording.

In sending the case to Circuit Court, Kent County District Judge Sara Smolenski referred to Welch's lack of an emotional response to his baby's death.

She said she has witnessed many different reactions to tragedy but was surprised by Welch's apparent "callousness."

"(The death) is as horrific as it gets," she said.

At the time of the death, the infant was suffering from chronic malnutrition, testified Dr. David Start, a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy.

Start said during the hearing that it would have taken weeks for the infant to reach such a condition.

The infant's muscles were wasting away, said Start. She couldn't crawl or lift her dead.

"It was a chronic withholding of food and water," he said.

A Kent County Sheriff's Office investigator testified the house was filthy at the time of the infant's death.

The investigator, Dawn TenBrink, said she found mice feces in drawers and many flies in the home. The infant's mattress was dirty with possible mold on the back of it.

"The mattress was torn and stained and black," she said.

The couple had told police they were aware of their baby's low weight for a month, according to police reports.

They believed the infant was skinny but not sick, according to the police reports. They said an older daughter also was skinny at that age.

But the couple also had told police they were wary of bringing the infant to a doctor, according to testimony at the hearing. They were worried their children could be taken away from them.

They told the police that, when their oldest child was born in 2014, the physician contacted Children's Protective Services, testified Jason Russo, a detective with the Kent County Sheriff's Office.

It wasn't known why the doctor had notified the state agency.

"He lost faith and trust in the medical field because of what he perceived as an overreach of the medical community," said Russo.

During the probable-cause hearing, the couple's defense attorneys argued the medical examiner had jumped to an erroneous conclusion.

They said the couple had been caring for the baby, and that Fusari had been breast-feeding her.

Welch's attorney, Lesley Kranenberg, said the child may have been suffering from a metabolic disorder that kept her from absorbing nutrients.

She said the couple didn't have the medical expertise to diagnose the infant.

"These two young people are not nutritionists. They are not dietitians," she said.

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Twitter: @francisXdonnell