Kent County

Judge: Kent County baby death 'as horrific as it gets'

GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kent County man charged with murdering his 10-month-old daughter called his attorney before 911 after finding the dead baby, a recording of the emergency call indicates.

Judge Sara Smolenski noted Seth Welch's "callousness" during the 911 call when she bound him and his wife, Tatiana Fusari, over on charges of felony murder and child abuse in the Aug. 2 death of Mary Anne Welch.

"This is a case for all of us, when you hear it, it is horrific. It is as horrific as it gets," the judge said.

The couple is charged with open murder and child abuse after a medical examiner concluded Mary’s death was a homicide caused by malnutrition and dehydration.  

Seth Welch cried in court Wednesday as prosecutors played a recording of his 911 call, which he made shortly after noon on Aug. 2.

During the call, Seth Welch told the dispatcher his daughter was "dead as a doornail" and that he called a lawyer before calling 911. He estimated he discovered the unresponsive baby in her crib about 90 minutes before his call, but authorities indicated it was closer to two hours.

Detective Jason Russo testified Fusari told investigators she fed Mary around 2:30 p.m. before going to work the day before the baby was found dead. Fusari and Seth Welch never checked on Mary until the next morning, when Seth Welch told dispatchers he found her around 10 a.m.

Welch’s defense attorney argued in court there’s no evidence the couple had any intention to harm their baby or were willfully neglectful.

“In fact, there is testimony that both parents believed that their child was fine,” defense attorney Lesley S. Kranenberg told the judge. “The child was skinny, but not sickly. They were breastfeeding the child. These two young people are not nutritionists. They are not dietitians.”

She also noted there were empty baby food jars and soiled diapers at the house, evidence suggesting the parents were feeding the baby properly.

Kranenberg said the medical examiner jumped to conclusions on the cause of death, and she noted there was some evidence the child may have had a metabolic disorder.

But Assistant Prosecutor Kim Richardson fired back.

"Of course (the parents) knew they were not feeding her. That baby barely looked like a baby anymore," Richardson told the court. "They knew something was wrong."

Earlier, Richardson pointed out that Mary couldn't crawl or lift her head, had no muscle and sunken eyes, and weighed 8 pounds at death.

"She looked like a hundred-year-old baby. All skin and bones," Richardson said.

The doctor who performed the autopsy on Mary testified she was in a state of “chronic malnutrition” and her muscles were “wasting away.” He said her death did not happen overnight and it would have taken weeks for her to become dehydrated.

"I want to reiterate the fact that the baby did not die because of one missed meal. This is weeks and weeks," Judge Smolenski said. "This isn't about being very skinny, this is about being dead."

Kent County Sheriff’s Deputy Dawn Tenbrink became emotional as the prosecutor asked her to review photos of the Solon Township home at the time of Mary’s death. She said Mary’s crib was “very dirty,” with possible mold under the mattress. She said the home was infested with flies and she found mice feces in drawers.

Tenbrink said she only found one container of baby food and no formula during her survey of the home, but photos showed three formula containers in the house, two which expired five months before the baby’s death.

In earlier interviews with detectives, both parents said they were aware of Mary’s skinny appearance and low weight for at least a month before her death, an affidavit indicated.

A detective said Fusari admitted they didn't reach out for medical help for Mary because of a fear their three children would be taken by Children's Protective Services. The detective said the couple also distrusted medical services and cited religious reasons.

CPS had previously had contact with the family in 2014 when there was THC found in their eldest child's system at birth. According to court documents, Seth Welch said he didn't trust doctors and that they had forged documents against him and his eldest child in 2014. 

However, in a jailhouse interview with 24 Hour News 8, Seth Welch said there were no obvious signs that his daughter was not well. He admitted she was thin, but said that was true of his other children as well.

"In the Bible, it says that good food is our medicine. We fed her. We were feeding her chicken, potatoes, apples, cheese. We were giving her the good stuff," Welch said. "She died. It's a tragedy. … The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh."

Seth Welch said he cared for his children without the aid of doctors because of religious beliefs, but would have gotten help for Mary if they had known something was seriously wrong.

Hand-painted signs with religious messages like ""Repent. Believe. Obey," were nailed to the trees and fence at the family's property Algoma Avenue northwest of Cedar Springs. Those signs were gone Wednesday, the fence painted over in white.

Neighbors in the rural area said they were "shocked" by the death.

"I had never expected anything like that," neighbor Dwayne Pride told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday.

He said the family was generally private.

"They'd keep to themselves, do their business and didn't want to interact much beyond that," he said.

The state has filed a petition with the court seeking to terminate Welch and Fusari's rights to their two surviving children, ages 4 and 2.

—24 Hour News 8's Zach Horner contributed to this report.


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