Death of Kennewick 9-month-old ruled homicide

The March death of 9-month-old Kennewick boy who suffered blows to his head has been ruled a homicide, but police said they don't yet know how the infant was hurt.

And the Benton County coroner said he is investigating what caused the death of two other babies.

A 9-week-old girl was found dead in bed early Wednesday. And test results still aren't back on a 1-year-old Richland boy who died in June.

On Wednesday, Benton County Coroner John Hansens issued the final death certificate on Liam Beckett Smith, 9 months.

He died March 15 in the Kennewick General Hospital emergency room. An autopsy the following day by Daniel Selove, a forensic pathologist from Everett, found the boy suffered several hemorrhages inside his brain caused by blunt-force trauma.

But Hansens said he couldn't rule it as a homicide until test results were completed.

"Homicide simply means that one person caused the death of another person," he explained. "It can be an accident. It can be justifiable homicide. It can be criminal homicide. ... There are a number of scenarios."

Kennewick police were called at 12:15 p.m. March 15 to a home in the 1100 block of North Cleveland Avenue after medics responded to a report of an infant not breathing, said Detective Sgt. Randy Maynard.

Detectives have been investigating the infant's death since the autopsy, interviewing family and friends, he said.

The pathologist identified a "very large time window" for when Liam's injuries occurred, and detectives haven't yet figured out who was with the baby at the time to explain what happened, he said.

They also don't know if Liam, who was born with Down syndrome, was at home when he was hurt.

"We don't even know yet who's responsible, if anybody," Maynard said. "It's completely feasible that there could have been some accidental event that caused the injury. We don't know if it's an intentional injury."

There was an early indication that Liam fell off a couch onto the living room floor, but Hansens said Selove specifically looked into that while completing the autopsy. There was a bruise just above the infant's left ear, but Selove determined a fall from a couch was "excluded as the cause of this bruise," Hansens said, reading from Selove's report.

Liam was born June 8, 2010, to Kayla Smith and Cameron Mortensen, his obituary said.

People might question why it took five months to make a final determination about Liam's death, but Hansens said getting tests back took a while and the police investigation also took some time.

"These types of cases take a long time because they are being examined so closely," he said.

In Richland, the manner of death still is pending in the case of 1-year-old Ryder Morrison, who died June 22 from blunt force trauma to his head.

No information has been released about how the Richland boy was hurt. Richland police said Ryder was taken to Kadlec Regional Medical Center after medics were called to his home on the 1300 block of Williams Boulevard.

Ryder, who celebrated his first birthday the day before, died in surgery. Detectives were called to the hospital by Child Protective Services.

Ryder lived with his mother, Tawney Johnson, but was being watched by a nanny when he was hurt. His father is Spencer Morrison.

Hansens said Dr. Selove has been conferring with two pediatric specialists about Ryder's case and does not have a final report.

Selove will return to the Tri-Cities on Friday for an autopsy on another baby found dead Wednesday in Finley.

The almost 9-week-old girl died sometime overnight, Hansens said. She was sleeping in a bed with at least one other person and was found not breathing, he said.

Benton County sheriff's deputies and Kennewick fire paramedics were called to the home on Gamefarm Road just after 6 a.m., said sheriff's Lt. Brian White.

It was reported that CPR was attempted by people at the home, but when emergency responders arrived, they were unable to revive the baby, he said.

The baby's name was not released Wednesday because relatives still were being notified.

Her death remains under investigation but, "the initial investigation has found no evidence of violence or trauma," White said.

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com