MONTPELIER -- A Vermont mother pleaded not guilty Wednesday to killing her 14-month-old son, who was found dead less than an hour after a Department of Children and Families worker had visited her apartment, police said.
Nytosha Laforce, 28, was held without bail after being charged with second-degree murder in the death of Peighton Geraw. The toddler died April 4 from trauma to the head and neck, an autopsy found.
Staff at Fletcher Allen Health Care reported bruises on each side of the child’s neck to the state Department for Children and Families after examining Peighton on April 2, when he was brought to the emergency room because he was vomiting, had a fever and wasn’t walking.
DCF Supervisor John Salter said he visited Laforce’s Winooski apartment two days later and spoke to her and her boyfriend and observed the child, who appeared to be sleeping and looked to be "a little bit pale," he told police.
"Do I know that he was still alive? No I don’t," he told police, according to an affidavit.
DCF can’t comment on cases but in typical practice a DCF worker would not wake a sleeping baby in an investigation or assessment, said Karen Shea, child protection and field operations director for the department.
Peighton had a healing lower leg fracture that was about a week old when he died, police said.
Police arrested Laforce after she and her boyfriend consented to polygraph tests, police said. Tyler Chicoine said during a follow-up interview that he witnessed Laforce shake Peighton and bang his head on the floor, police said. He said he had been withholding the information because he loved her, police said.
Chicoine told police it was the craziest thing he had ever seen Nytosha do, authorities said. "She was definitely on something. It wasn’t just weed," he told police, according the affidavit.
Gov. Peter Shumlin said last month that he had ordered the Department of Children and Families to do more to protect children after the deaths of Peighton and a Poultney toddler whose family circumstances had prompted department involvement. He said he was beefing up DCF to reduce workloads, which have doubled in the last five years as the state has struggled with heroin and opiate problems.
Laforce said Peighton was born about five weeks early and needed to be weaned off of opiates, the police affidavit said. She told police that during her pregnancy she had used two drugs that are used to treat addiction to heroin or other opiates, and was currently getting a daily dose of one of them.
On April 14, Laforce failed a urine test. Chicoine said she told him cocaine, marijuana, opiates and the opiate treatment medication was found in her system, the police affidavit said.
Last May, Laforce fled to New Hampshire with Peighton, Salter said. Peighton was taken into custody by New Hampshire Child Protective Services, transferred to Vermont DCF and placed with Laforce’s mother until October of 2013, when he was returned to his mother with DCF conditions, Salter said.