SYDNEY – An Australian toddler died after being given morphine and methadone by either his mother or her boyfriend, but there is not enough evidence to charge either of them, a coroner found on Friday.
The 22-month-old boy was found dead in his vomit-stained cot on Jan. 29, 2006, with a brown substance around his mouth. An autopsy showed a large amount of the drugs had been given to him shortly before he died, and hair tests revealed he'd previously been drugged for at least three months before his death.
The boy's mother — who cannot be named for legal reasons — left him and her two other children in the care of her boyfriend, Junior Perese, for at least 10 minutes the night before he was found dead. Police said Perese had ample opportunity to drug the boy during that time.
Perese admitted during the inquest to using drugs, and police said the boy's mother also had a history of drug use.
But on Friday, Deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanovich said even though it's clear that either the boy's mother or Perese administered the drugs, the death must be treated as an "unsolved homicide" because there isn't enough evidence to prove either one's guilt.
"I propose to find that the drugs found in (the boy) were administered to him by a person or persons unknown," Milovanovich said in Sydney's Westmead Coroner's Court as he handed down his findings following a three-day inquest. "(Though) the evidence has clearly established that only one of two people (or both) could possibly be responsible."
In Australia, a coroner probes the circumstances of unusual deaths in court proceedings called an inquest and, in some states, can recommend further action by police or prosecutors if warranted.
Earlier this week, attorney Vincent McGrath, who assisted Milovanovich with the inquest, said in court that although the boy's mother couldn't be ruled out, it was far more likely Perese was responsible. McGrath said Perese may have been motivated to drug the child to prevent the toddler from waking up during the night, giving Perese uninterrupted time with his girlfriend.
Lawyers for the mother also accused Perese of drugging the boy. Perese denied in court that he gave the child any drugs.
The mother cannot be named because doing so would identify her son, and Australian law prohibits the identification of minor victims of crimes in the media.