The Journal Gazette
Saturday, April 21, 2018 1:00 am

Child's mom charged in death

Neck compression cited; boyfriend being sought

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

When Fort Wayne firefighters arrived at Jocelyn “JoJo” Belcher's home on East Butler Street at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 27, the 2-year-old girl was unresponsive, blue and cold to the touch.

Medics quickly arrived and took over, unzipping the toddler's clothing to find mottled skin and bruises, signs that it was too late to resuscitate her. Blood around the face prompted the county coroner's office to call for homicide investigators, according to court documents.

Friday, the coroner's office ruled JoJo's death the 16th homicide this year. The cause of death was neck compression. She is the sixth child homicide this year.

Found tangled up in a blanket, JoJo had been dead for at least two hours, a postmortem doctor, Dr. Darin Wolfe, said in court documents, but she could have been dead up to 36 hours. Forearm fractures that had healed but never been treated were consistent with abusive trauma, court records said.

Nearly three months later, after waiting for toxicology results, prosecutors charged the toddler's mother, Crystal Marie Belcher, 28, Thursday.

She was being held in lieu of $60,000 bail with felony charges of neglect of a dependent resulting in serious injury and neglect of a dependent placing a dependent in a dangerous situation.

Shane Allen Patton, 30, named in court documents as Belcher's boyfriend and caregiver to her five children, ranging in age from 2 to 9, is a person of interest in JoJo's death. He is 5 foot 9 inches tall and about 200 pounds, with brown eyes and brown hair. Anyone knowing his whereabouts is asked to call 427-1222 to report his location, police said.

Inconsistencies in court documents mark Patton's and Belcher's accounts of what took place the night before JoJo's death.

Patton called 911 at 11:32 a.m. to report he had just returned home from work, that everyone was asleep, and that Crystal's daughter was rolled up in a blanket in the corner of the bed and had stopped breathing, court documents said.

However, Belcher said Patton and the family had arrived at their East Butler home around 5 p.m. the night before, and had dinner and watched a movie. They dropped the oldest daughter off at a relative's house around 10 p.m. before returning to the home with the other four children, who were put to bed between 11 and 11:30 p.m.

She said she checked on the children a couple of times throughout the night by viewing in-house cameras. Cameras that detectives said only filmed the floor and the edge of the beds, court documents said. Belcher got up around 10:30 a.m. and, realizing it was late in the morning, started to make breakfast, court documents said. Crime scene photos document two pieces of bread in the toaster and no other prepared food. Between 10:45 and 11 a.m., Belcher asked the other children to get JoJo and when they reported that she was wrapped up in a blanket, she and the children went to her bedside.

Belcher said she found her daughter in the corner of the crib wrapped very tightly in a blanket that she had to pull off the toddler's body, and that she did not know how it got around her body and face, even though JoJo liked being tucked up in blankets to go to sleep, court documents said.

She noticed that her daughter was blue and tried to wake her up. Then she said she “freaked out” and “screamed for Shane” and had to go shake Patton to wake him up downstairs where they slept.

Patton then went to check on JoJo and came back downstairs, asking Belcher “what the (expletive) happened.”

Belcher went back upstairs to her daughter, got her out of the crib and attempted CPR. She changed her diaper and put clothes on her hoping she would wake and start breathing, court documents said. The toddler's legs were stiff when she changed her diaper, so Patton called 911.

Interviews with Belcher's children shed more light on the little girl's death. One of the older children said Patton was the one who normally put JoJo to bed and that he usually wrapped her up in a blanket. The child said that usually when he put JoJo and the 3-year-old to bed, she heard Patton smack them. She also said that Patton covered JoJo's face every time he wrapped her up in a blanket.

Another child said he heard JoJo calling for her mother early in the morning and that JoJo had two blankets wrapped around her that morning.

JoJo's father, Joey Belcher, said the coroner's ruling was a relief, “but it really doesn't change anything.”

He said he was hoping for charges against Patton, but charges have not been filed. He added that a restraining order Crystal Belcher filed against him in August prevented him from checking on his daughters; court documents indicate a restraining order was filed in August.

Four days before JoJo's death, Joey Belcher sent his father, JoJo's grandfather, to check on the children. His father reported that JoJo was missing a tooth and appeared to have hair missing from her head. 

Joey Belcher also said he reported to detectives every time Crystal Belcher and Patton moved to a new house. The day before JoJo died, Crystal Belcher told detectives that she and Patton had looked at a new home to live in after she dropped off her taxes at a tax preparer, court documents said.

After JoJo's body was found, Crystal Belcher and Patton were taken voluntarily to the police department for an interview. Patton initially said he would talk to detectives, but then refused. 

Voluntary drug tests conducted on both Belcher and Patton tested positive for amphetamines, court documents said.

The thermostat in the house was set above 80 degrees, and police found animal feces on the floor, mostly in the upstairs area where children slept and in the basement. The upstairs area also “had an odor of animals and feces that was very potent,” court documents read.  Animal Control officers removed two dogs, two cats and a raccoon.

Dirty dishes were also stacked on the kitchen counter and dirty piles of laundry lay about the house.

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