Homicide unit set for first case

WARREN – Barely formed over the last couple months, a newly trained Trumbull County Child Homicide Investigation Unit was called into action for the first time last weekend.

And by all accounts, the joint effort between detectives, investigators and prosecutors worked like it was drawn up on paper.

Work by the unit led to an arrest June 17 of a 33-year-old Bazetta man who was charged with murdering the 4-year-old son of his live-in girlfriend. An affidavit in the case accuses the defendant of striking the child’s stomach the evening of June 14, causing the fatal blunt force trauma. The boy died early the following day.

Designed as a special arm of the countywide Homicide Unit that was formed in 1984 by Trumbull Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, it was a letter from County Coroner Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk to Watkins about a year ago and further talks last fall that led to specific training for detectives Michael Currington of Warren, David Morris of Cortland, Chris Bordonaro of Lordstown and Jolene Marcello of the sheriff’s office. The unit also includes Gary Hetzel and Roy Anne Rudolph, investigators with the Prosecutor’s Office.

The group develops criminal cases and specific evidence for assistant county prosecutors Diane Barber and Gabe Wildman, who follow the cases through court.

”Everybody worked on the case continuously from Saturday to Monday. It’s a good group that was selected and everyone in the unit works well together,” said Barber, chief of the Child Assault Division in the Prosecutor’s Office.

The effort started with a call from a coroner’s investigator to Hetzel after Germaniuk performed an autopsy on the boy. Hetzel was dealing with the marriage of his daughter that weekend, but notified other members of the unit, including Morris.

Morris questioned the defendant with Bazetta Detective Joe Sofchek and Marcello, who with sheriff’s Maj. Tom Stewart, arrested the suspect June 17 in Packard Park in Warren.

”Between the folks I was working with, there’s a tremendous amount of knowledge,” said Sofchek, the lead investigator in the case. ”It helps to be able to call on a specialized unit like that.”

Watkins calls it the perfect example of of how larger departments can help smaller departments that might lack manpower and resources.

”This was all put together with the blessing of Children Services and their leadership,” Watkins said. ”Through specialization, everybody benefits.”

When Germaniuk envisioned the special unit, he wanted to stress the early investigation of the actual murder scene, calling it ”of utmost importance” in his letter to the prosecutor.

”Our county had the foresight in the 1990s to recruit and hire someone with the expertise of Dr. Germaniuk. Even though we’re a mid-sized county, that expertise is paying off,” Watkins said.

Watkins’ office covered costs of special seminars in April and in May, including techniques in death scene investigations put on by Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.

The group trained in Columbus in May when they learned from a forensic expert from Kentucky who deals in child assaults and murders. Other training involved obtaining statements from people suspected of assaulting youngsters.

Suspect Scott Henry Walker, 33, of Bazetta, is due back in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing in the death of Charles Nicholas Partin.