Crime And Law

I-Team: Could Middletown mother have legally surrendered kids to state before son’s death?

MIDDLETOWN — New court documents released this week in the case of Brittany Gosney have had many asking if the Middletown mother could have given up her kids legally before the death of her 6-year-old son, James Hutchinson in February.

>>RELATED: New court docs show Middletown mom accused of murdering her son tried to give up custody of her 3 kids

Court documents filed in the case show Gosney has told investigators a similar story twice. First, Preble County deputies wrote in an affidavit filed in February that Gosney told them she was trying to abandon her three kids at Rush Run Wildlife Area in Somerville when she murdered her youngest child, James Hutchinson.

>> RELATED: Middletown mother accused of killing son ruled competent to stand trial

Then, in her 10-page competency evaluation, the psychologist who evaluated Gosney noted she claimed she had explored options on giving up custody of her kids.

“Gosney noted that she had tried to explore options to relinquish her parental rights and ‘give up’ her children prior to the offenses charged, she indicated that she was met with a number of barriers in her attempts to do so,” the psychologist noted in the report, obtained by News Center 7 through a public records request this week.

>>RELATED: Timeline: How the investigation into James Hutchinson’s death unfolded

So far, News Center 7 and the I-Team have not been able to confirm who Gosney might have reached out to about relinquishing custody or when.

But could Gosney have had any legal way to surrender custody? The I-Team discovered that might not be possible in all cases under Ohio law.

>> RELATED: Mother, boyfriend accused of killing 6-year-old indicted on 31 felonies

Ohio does have a Safe Haven Law, but the law is mostly infant-centric with birth parents. The statute (Ohio Revised Code, Section 2151.3516) says “a parent may voluntarily deliver his or her child who is not older than 30 days, without intent to return for the child.”

The law allows a birth parent to leave the infant with: a medical worker in a hospital, a medical worker at a fire department or other emergency service organization, or with a peace officer at a law enforcement agency.

As long as the infant is left at one of those three places, and the child has not been abused, state law says the birth parents cannot be prosecuted for making the choice to give up their baby within that 30-day window.

But for children older than 30 days, like in the case of James Hutchinson, Ohio law is less explicit about parents relinquishing custody, according to I-Team research.

“On day 31 the statute is clear that the statute expires at that point,” Dave Leitch, a professor at Cedarville University said Wednesday.

Leitch is also a lawyer with 12 years of experience in child custody and welfare cases in Ohio.

After day 31, parents who want to relinquish custody of their children should contact their local children services agency for help, Leitch said. He added there’s nothing written in Ohio law that dictates what struggling parents should do for a child after a baby is 30-days-old.

The I-Team’s John Bedell asked Leitch, “What are options for parents who are either struggling to care for or wanting to give up a child beyond that 30-day point that is laide out in Ohio’s Safe Haven law?”

“It would be beyond the Safe Haven Law at that point,” Leitch said. “But I would contact the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services – your local county office – and sit down and talk with them … They will work with you.”

“(They) can reach out to family that might be able to take the child on a temporary basis,” Leitch said. “Or, there’s temporary custody outside families as well. There’s foster parents that can take the child on a temporary basis while you try to care for own personal needs while you can’t care for the child. So that is really, the primary way that you want to deal with these issues.”

Gosney’s jury trial on murder and other charges is scheduled to start May 24 in Butler County. Her boyfriend and co-defendant, James Hamilton, is also due in court for his next hearing on May 24. So far, the court has not scheduled his trial yet.

As of today, investigators have not been able to recover Hutchinson’s remains after prosecutors say Gosney and Hamilton threw his body into the Ohio River in Lawrenceburg, Ind.