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Would-be dad held in tot's death

After the boy soiled himself, the foster father wrapped him so tightly in a blanket that the 3-year-old suffocated, police say.

By MIKE BRASSFIELD and TAMARA LUSH

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- A 3-year-old boy was brought from Connecticut to Florida last week to stay with a couple who wanted to adopt him. They bought him toys and expensive clothes and took countless photos of him.

Alex Boucher lived only a matter of days.

Jim and Jenny Curtis gave their neighbors several theories about why little Alex had died. The boy had been sickly, they said. He was born with fetal alcohol syndrome or maybe hemophilia, they said. Perhaps he had been electrocuted in the tub.

Police have a different theory: Earlier this week the boy soiled himself, and his would-be father became angry. The man wrapped Alex so tightly in a blanket that the boy suffocated in his bed, investigators say.

Late Friday afternoon, James Theodore Curtis was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder. Curtis, 25, of 5529 Lasalle Court in New Port Richey was listed in police records as unemployed and disabled. He being held without bail Friday in the Pasco County Jail.

Neighbors were disgusted by the news of what had happened to the pudgy little boy with blond hair and a pug nose.

"The face of a child abuser looks like your neighbor," said Linda Lang, 42. "You can't tell just by looking at them. They look just like you and me."

Alex had chronic medical conditions and was a ward of the state, according to the Connecticut Department of Children and Families.

Authorities say the Curtises were his new foster parents. They got temporary custody of him on Sept. 13 in Connecticut and were in the process of legally adopting him. Neighbors say the couple brought Alex to their Florida home last week.

New Port Richey police Cpl. Jackie Pehote gave the following account of Alex's death:

Sometime on Monday, the boy soiled himself. Jim Curtis scolded him and grabbed his cheeks hard enough to leave bruises. Monday evening, Curtis tightly wrapped the boy in a navy blue cotton blanket and put him in bed.

In the stilted words of an arrest affidavit, police say Curtis "wrapped the blanket in a manner to willfully torture victim."

The boy's arms were bound to his sides so he couldn't move them, and the blanket came up to his chin. Half an hour later, he was found lying on his stomach, unconscious, with vomit coming from his mouth.

An ambulance was called shortly after 6 p.m. Monday.

Alex was taken to nearby Community Hospital and later to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, where a doctor determined he was brain-dead.

The boy died Wednesday, and an autopsy found he had been asphyxiated. He was 3 years and 8 months old, according to the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office.

Police had questions from the start. They say they read Curtis his rights and that he admitted to tightly wrapping the boy in the blanket.

Connecticut child-welfare authorities are investigating as well.

Jim and Jenny Curtis live in an apartment building in a working-class neighborhood of New Port Richey. Neighbors first saw Alex about a week ago, when the Curtises returned from a trip to New England.

Neighbor Linda Lang said the boy seemed bright and obedient. "He would mind Jenny and Jim," she said.

The Curtises bought Alex toys and clothes and showed neighbors numerous photos of him with his "new grandmother," Jenny Curtis' mother in New England.

Jenny Curtis told Linda Lang that the boy had come from an abusive foster home in Connecticut and that he had medical problems.

"They treated him like gold," said Lang's daughter, 16-year-old Brittany LaFemina.

Neighbor John Moran, 40, said the Curtises kept to themselves until Alex's death.

"The only time I ever talked to them was when the baby died," Moran said. Then, he said, Jim Curtis floated several theories about why Alex might have died.

Neighbors say the Curtises told them Thursday night that Jim Curtis had been cleared of all charges.

- Beth Hamilton of the Hartford Courant contributed to this report.

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