Murder charges planned after children found in locker
‘This is the most egregious child abuse homicide case I’ve ever seen': Police chief speaks after three-year-old girl and six-year-old boy were found dead in a storage locker.
Prosecutors said Thursday they will charge a woman and a teenager with first-degree murder in the deaths of two young children found dead in a rented storage unit in California. Salinas police chief Kelly McMillin said two dozen investigators are still trying to piece together the tangled and horrific series of events that led to the deaths. Police found the children’s bodies wrapped in a plastic tote container inside the AAA Enterprise Stor-All’s storage locker, which was rented by Tami Joy Huntsman, 39, on Dec. 11.
The case has drawn in law enforcement authorities from across California, where officials said they believed the abuse and killing of the children and the disposal of their bodies took place in at least three counties hundreds of miles apart. “This is one of the worst cases that I have ever seen,” Kelly McMillin, the police chief in Salinas, Calif., said at a news conference on Thursday. “It was terrible. Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo also said autopsies had determined the children — ages 3 and 6 — died around Thanksgiving in Salinas of ongoing physical abuse.
Witnesses said they saw Huntsman and her boyfriend Gonzalo Curiel, 17, dropping items off at the unit, but didn’t see any children, the Record Spotlight reported. Stephen Carlton said, he had never encountered a case more grim than the one involving the little boy and girl and the storage unit they were entombed in. “It’s the worst case I think I’ve ever seen in 50 years of practicing law,” Carlton said. “It disturbed everybody that was at the autopsy — the police officers, the head of detectives and also my deputy. The charges could be filed as soon as Friday and will include a special circumstance of torture that Flippo said could bring the death penalty if defendants Tami Huntsman, 39, and her 17-year-old male companion are convicted.
Chief McMillin said the girl was “in really, really bad shape and needed immediate and substantial medical care.” She remained hospitalized almost a week later, he said. The grim discovery was made in the case that has spanned three California counties after authorities first found a severely abused 9-year-old girl at an apartment in Plumas County last week. The Associated Press typically does not identify abuse victims; it is not naming the woman and teenager because their relationship to the children is unclear. The lifetime term without probation or parole for Michael Thomassie, 41, follows a trial marked by prosecutors’ seizure of the cellphone they said Thomassie used to send raunchy texts to his girlfriend and a courtroom selfie. Authorities have not positively identified the dead 3-year-old and 6-year-old as the missing children, but said they are convinced of their identities.
The revelation came just a day after it was revealed that social services made four visits in the past year to Huntsman but decided the children were not at risk. Authorities responding to a tip last week went to Tami Joy Huntsman’s apartment in the Plumas County town of Quincy in Northern California, where they said they found a starving 9-year-old girl. One fellow Orleans Parish inmate drew a 950-day contempt of court penalty by heckling Thomassie when he stood in front of the judge Tuesday, The Times-Picayune in New Orleans reported. Later that day, the bodies of a 6-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl were found inside a container that had been stuffed in a storage locker in Redding, Calif., a city more than 100 miles northwest of Quincy. Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood said she weighed about 40 pounds, had broken bones in her shoulder, broken fingers, a dislocated jaw, and teeth that were missing or loose.
He’s getting what he deserves.” Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier had helped set the tone for a tense trial when she ruled Thomassie’s courtroom texts to another officer and his girlfriend could be used in court. She reportedly had open sores and was infested with lice. ‘That little girl had been subjected to the most unspeakable measure of torture for an extended period of time. Rodrigue said in her opening statement that Thomassie received advice from the other cop on his phone during jury selection, the Times-Picayune reported at the time.
A local court reporter tweeted the photo of Thomassie with his newly clean shaven chin that prosecutors said he sent to his new girlfriend at the same time. Elliot Robinson, head of the Monterey County Department of Social Services, said the woman was visited by county child welfare workers four times over the course of a year to check on complaints of neglect. Rodrigue told jurors the couple had flirted about whether he preferred women to be shaved. “He responds, ‘No hair is best,'” Rodrigue said, according to the newspaper. “Hours before sitting in court for trial for the aggravated rape of a 7- or 8-year-old girl.” Thomassie, who was wearing the red jumpsuit for maximum security prisoners Tuesday, hasn’t been officially fired from the New Orleans Police Department. The complaints between September 2014 and August were about general neglect, a category that includes poor supervision, improper feeding, lice infestation and dirty household conditions, Robinson said, adding that none of the complaints alleged physical abuse.
Officials from the department placed him on administrative reassignment in July 2014 after the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau and Child Abuse Unit launched their investigation. Superintendent Michael Harrison said after Thomassie’s August conviction that he had suspended Thomassie without pay and started the process of firing him. “I am disgusted by the unspeakable actions of this officer, and based on this conviction, I am taking immediate steps to remove him from within our ranks,” Harrison told the Times-Picayune. “There is no place in this department for officers who choose to commit acts of violence. As recently as August, social workers in Monterey County had visited the couple’s apartment in Salinas where Huntsman was caring for five children: Delylah, Shaun and their 9-year-old sister, and twins that the Sacramento Bee reported were Huntsman’s biological children.
My thoughts and prayers are with the victim, her family and the family of Officer Thomassie during this tragic situation.” Thomassie declined to testify. Two older children – 12-year-old male and female twins – who were at an East Quincy residence where Huntsman and Curiel were staying with a friend were immediately placed in foster care, the Plumas News reported. Defense attorney Pat Fanning said Tuesday his client has become indigent and intends to appeal the conviction with the help of the Louisiana Appellate Project. Though no children were taken from the home during those investigations, that wasn’t the case last week in Quincy, when a concerned resident called police about possible abuse.
When exactly the abuse started is something that remains under investigation.” He said investigators were still working to determine where the children died and why the suspects traveled so far across the state. They saw no “overt signs of abuse,” he said, and no action was ultimately taken. “Whether there were opportunities missed, I think as we move through the investigation that is something we will absolutely be looking for,” the chief said.
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