Child Death Questions - Part 2 of 2

January 7, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The mother and her boyfriend charged in connection with the brutal death of a ten-year-old Fresno boy entered "not guilty" pleas Wednesday in court. It's a child abuse case that's raising questions tonight about who's looking out for children at risk in their own homes.Seth was Joseph Hudson's only child and he said, his best friend. He told me he can't understand how Seth fell through the cracks of Child Protective Services after he contacted them, and his school principal contacted them with this letter saying quote "I am very concerned about the well being of Seth and his 7 year old half brother. Both have been absent a lot and have come to school with bruises."

"He did not want to go he said 'daddy I don't wanna go back'. I was frightened for him also," said Hudson.

That's the very last memory Joseph Hudson has of his 10-year-old son, Seth. 14 days later, he learned that Seth was in the hospital. He had been severely beaten and he was fighting for his life. Thursday, Seth died. The coroner said it was from blunt force trauma.

Police said Seth's mother, Rena Ireland and her boyfriend, Lebarron Vaughn are responsible. Vaughn has been charged with murder.

"Once boyfriend moved in everything changed," said Hudson, "I noticed behavioral changes, became robotic, reserved."

Then in August Hudson said he saw injuries on Seth. "Some terrible spanking on inner thigh. Welts, scabbing already."

Hudson said Ireland refused to let Seth see his dad after that and that his child's mother and boyfriend tried to get rid of Seth and his 7-year-old brother by dumping them off on others. Twice in the last few months. On December 26th, Hudson said the couple tried to dump them off at the Fresno County Jail.

The father said the couple told a Sheriff's Deputy that CPS told them they could leave the kids at the jail if they didn't want them. Three days after that, on December 29th, police said Lebarron Vaugh kicked, punched and stomped on Seth's head.

Hudson doesn't want to point fingers but he said he wants to see changes at CPS so no other child has to endure what Seth did.

Neighbors held a vigil Wednesday evening to honor Seth Ireland. Neighbors are among the people who reported abuse inside the home, but investigators said their case wasn't strong enough to take Seth from his mother and her boyfriend. Despite what, in retrospect, looks like pretty clear evidence

Police and Child Protective Service investigators were somewhat familiar with Seth Ireland's family, even before the beating that killed him. A recent string of abuse reports began on August 17th, when his mother took him to the police department with marks on his body. She blamed Seth's father, but later confessed to beating the 10-year-old herself.

CPS investigated, and although they won't talk specifically about this case, they said that kind of report usually isn't too extreme.

"We deal with a lot of custody hearings where parents call us in for one reason or another, believing that if they can get CPS involved in their case, they have a better case in family court in terms of custody. Those are really hard cases because do you have abuse? Is it true? Could be," said Catherine Huerta with CPS.

Four months later, on the day after Christmas, Rena Ireland and Lebaron Vaughn went to the county jail and tried to give up two of their kids, including Seth. A deputy filed a report and passed it on to CPS.

But the investigator on the case never got the chance to compile enough evidence to take Seth away from his mother. Three days later, he was dead.

Neighbors said they also reported violence at the home between August and December. Ireland's family members said they tried to do their own investigation, but Vaughn kept them from finding out anything.

"We tried to be involved in the children's lives, but he was continuously running away from the family... Keeping the children, along with Rena, away from us," said Seth's Uncle Chris Fields.

CPS investigators said this is the type of case they can't ever forget; the kind where they missed out on getting the true story and got burned instead. "Really, the bottom line when you're investigating a case, it's not only what you know, but it's trying to figure out what you don't know. And sometimes what you don't know is where the secrets are," said Catherine Huera.

The other three children who lived in this house are now in CPS custody. Vaughn and Ireland are still in the county jail Wednesday. His bond is more than a million dollars, hers is $30,000.

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