Cincinnati Enquirer - A boy who faced a murder charge for nearly a year in his grandfather's death saw all charges dropped last month after an expert hired by prosecutors could not determine what caused the man's injuries, documents show.
The boy was 12 years old when his grandfather, Fowler Agenbroad, died in August 2016 after striking his head against a wall in the Mount Healthy home they shared. The impact was two feet from the floor and left a circular hole that went through drywall and plaster.
Investigators believed the boy did something to cause the 80-year-old man's head to hit the wall. The boy told police they had been arguing before it happened. He said his grandfather tripped on a rug.
The county coroner ruled the cause of death could not be determined.
A complicating factor for police was that they had removed the boy from the home two days before the incident because of a reported altercation with Agenbroad. The grandfather allowed him to return the next day.
A Hamilton County assistant prosecutor told a juvenile court judge at a March 2017 hearing that Agenbroad's head "was essentially a battering ram directly straight-forward into that wall."
But in January a biomedical engineer from Ohio State University hired by prosecutors as they prepared for trial, said his tests showed Agenbroad's neck injuries were caused by "a fairly low speed" impact, such as a fall.
"Testing confirmed that lower speed impacts resulted in higher neck loads and thus more likely to be injury-causing," the engineer, John Bolte, said in a summary of his findings obtained by The Enquirer. Agenbroad's C1 and C2 vertebrae were fractured.
Bolte said a possible cause was "walking before tripping."
The boy's attorneys, Jay Clark and Angela Chang, intended to argue at trial that Agenbroad had a heart attack before falling.
In an interview, Clark said charges never should have been filed against the boy, who was about five feet tall and average build at the time charges were announced. He said it was a flawed investigation by Mount Healthy Police and prosecutors.
"They should have done their due diligence and got an expert before filing charges," he said. "Instead, they file on a 13-year-old who's now been traumatized through no fault of his own."
Police reports show Mount Healthy Police consulted with the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, but the agency was unable to perform tests on the wall. In September 2016, BCI referred Mount Healthy police to a private company.
The boy wasn't charged until March 2017, seven months after his grandfather's death. He was 13 by then. He was charged with murder and reckless homicide.
According to police incident reports, no tests were conducted regarding the wall before then.
Mount Healthy Police Chief Vince Demasi said his department worked closely with prosecutors who ultimately directed the investigation.
"We conducted a thorough investigation, working with the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office, and we moved forward as a team," Demasi said.
In February, nearly a year after the charges were filed, prosecutors dropped them. A spokeswoman for Prosecutor Joe Deters said only that "information received after the complaint was filed led us to dismiss" the charges.
Agenbroad had cared for the boy since he was an infant, and after his death, no family was available or able to take him in.
Both his parents died in recent years from drug overdoses.
The boy was placed in a home for youth with emotional, behavioral and other mental health issues. He has been living and attending school there ever since, according to his great aunt.
He is now left to rebuild his life without his parents or the grandfather he called "Poppy."
The boy was asked recently what he wants to do when he grows up. He said he wanted to be an architect.
"That's exactly what his great-grandfather did," said the aunt, Hattie Howell, who lives in Toledo. "We're hoping to see some good come out of all of this."
The year surrounding Agenbroad's death was filled with tragedy for the boy, Howell said.
The boy's father died in January 2016 from an overdose caused by heroin and fentanyl. His mother's fatal overdose happened the previous year.
The boy told police as well as a neighbor that his grandfather fell. He went to the neighbor's house and was "knocking on her door and frantically crying for help," according to a police report.
In the aftermath of his grandfather's fall, the boy said he cut his hand, punching glass windows in a door. A police officer required him to go to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, where a police supervisor directed the officer to interview the boy, according to court documents.
Police reports say the boy told the officer he and his grandfather argued about doing the dishes. He said Agenbroad walked away, tripped on a rug and fell into a wall.
Howell said the boy "reported the same story again and again and again – and that's what (prosecutors) finally came to see."
His parents had lived near Agenbroad, Howell said, and the boy visited them regularly. After his mother died, the boy's relationship with his father grew.
"He spent a lot of time with his dad, doing a lot of fun things," Howell said. "It was probably the best year of his life."