Parents of toddler killed by dehydration plead to murder

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The parents of 19-month-old child who was deprived of water until he died will go to prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

The quiet and formal court proceedings gave little indication of the tragic situation that brought 31-year-old father Alexander Birkenmeyer and 27-year-old mother Andrea Todd to Kent County Circuit Court Monday morning.

Both parents pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and child abuse as part of plea deals that will significantly reduce the sentences they could have received if convicted by a jury.

Their son Yurik Birkenmeyer was found dead in his crib March 16, 2018, at the family’s Wyoming home on Longstreet Avenue north of 28th Street. The temperature in the room was 85 to 90 degrees because of a space heater. At a hearing in August of last year, a forensic pathologist testified the boy weighed 22 pounds at death, the same weight as he was at 9 months, according to the child’s medical records.

As the details of the crime were outlined, neither parent showed any emotion.

Judge Mark Trusock took the pleas, questioning the parents to be sure they understood what they were pleading to.

“You did nothing to alleviate the situation, is that correct?” Trusock asked Todd.

“Yes, sir,” she answered.

“And that child died as a result of dehydration, is that correct?” Trusock continued.

“Yes, sir,” she calmly answered.

In exchange for the pleas, the prosecutor agreed to cap the minimum sentence at 16 years for Todd and 20 years for Birkenmeyer.

Todd had agreed to testify against the child’s father, whose sentencing guidelines could have had him facing a minimum of as much as 46 years.

The maximum sentence will be determined by Trusock on Oct. 31 and could be as high as life in prison.

These parents had two other children, one who died in 2015 and another who was born a few months ago while the mother was in the Kent County jail.

Investigators determined that the 2015 death was due to sudden infant death syndrome related to “co-sleeping with Alexander Birkenmeyer,” according to court records. The Kent County medical examiner found no evidence of injuries that would have suggested abuse or prompted further investigation and neither parent was charged with a crime.

When Todd was arrested in July 2018, it was revealed that she was pregnant with their third child. That child is in foster care and prosecutors will be seeking termination of Todd’s parental rights. Birkenmeyer was never legally declared the child’s father.

For the Kent County jail, the situation was nothing new.

“We have someone who is pregnant here at all times. I would say, maybe five at a time,” Kent County Corrections Facility Lt. Scott Nibbelink said, adding the inmates regularly give birth while in custody.

Officials treat the pregnant women like anyone else who has a condition that needs medical attention, bringing them to appointments and maintaining their dietary needs. The women are kept in general population unless they need immediate medical attention.

“If an inmate says that ‘I’m having contractions,’ they will call our medical staff and they will evaluate them and see if they need to go to the hospital at that time,” Nibbelink said.

They are transported to the hospital, usually by cruiser, and they are guarded while they are at the hospital.

In cases without fear for the safety of the child, the mother can stay with the baby for however long the hospital determines.

In cases in which the court has called for the child to be immediately removed, the child will go to wherever Children’s Protective Services determines and the mother is returned to the jail, which is what happened with Todd.

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