It was a single blow to the back of the head that killed 10-month-old Tariah White, and investigators say it happened in the about two hours she and her 3-year-old brother were left in the care of their mother’s boyfriend.
Tariah’s autopsy also revealed she suffered additional fractures to her skull, a brain bleed and bruises over her face, her left hand and right thigh.
Eric Patrick Neri, 21, had been babysitting Tariah and her brother on Tuesday at his girlfriend’s home in the 1200 block of Third Street West in Bradenton, when the Bradenton Police Department said both children suffered their injuries.
Neri admitted to hurting the girl, according to police and a prosecutor.
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Tariah’s brother is being treated at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg for a brain bleed, skull fracture, leg fracture and multiple bruises on his body.
Neri was booked into the Manatee County jail late Wednesday evening and charged with second-degree murder, child abuse and child neglect.
On Thursday afternoon, Neri appeared before Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll, who ordered he be held without bond. Carroll also ordered that Neri be brought back for another hearing Friday afternoon to review the probable cause on the child abuse charge.
Neri remained quiet throughout the hearing, after he was addressed by the judge. In the gallery beforehand, Neri was seen smiling at times.
Assistant Public Defender Anne Hunter argued police had not established probable cause in the affidavit charging Neri with second-degree murder.
“It appears in the PCA that he explains the head injury from slipping and falling with the child in the kitchen,” Hunter said. “At most I would argue that this is probable cause for manslaughter.”
Assistant State Attorney Julie Binkley disagreed.
“The defendant did give a very lengthy statement to law enforcement, post-Miranda,” Binkley said. “He made numerous inconsistent statements, anything from denying the child had any injuries whatsoever on her to eventually making the statement.”
Another explanation he at one time offered during his questioning was the Tariah’s mother had dropped her on the television, according to his arrest report.
But rather than just rely on the police reports, Binkley provided Carroll with photographs of Tariah brought to court by detectives.
“The explanation that the defendant gave, the accidental explanation, is absolutely inconsistent with the photographs of the child who has injuries all over her face,” Binkley said as Carroll viewed the images. “The last two photos, do show a fracture to her skull and you can see how extensive of a fracture it is.”
Carroll did find probable cause for the murder charge, he said.
Hunter argued the warrant affidavit for the child abuse charge did not establish probable cause. Binkley said that since that warrant had been written, investigators had learned more about the 3-year-old boy’s injuries.
Carroll granted a 24-hour continuance for probable cause on the child abuse charge only. Neri will appear back before him at 1 p.m. Friday where it will be addressed.
The children’s mother told police she left both children in Neri’s care when she left for work at 3 p.m., according to an arrest report. Twenty minutes later the children’s grandmother showed up at the home to get the kids but was unable to get any response at the home, even after knocking on every door and window.
Two hours later the grandmother told police she returned to the home and Neri answered. She took Tariah, who Neri told her had been asleep for about an hour, and that after she left the home she realized Tariah was cold to the touch and had discharge coming from her nose, Detective Mike Page noted in the report.
She called Tariah’s mother and rushed the child to Manatee Memorial Hospital.
The child’s death is also investigated by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Child Protective Division and the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Anyone having information about the case can call Bradenton Police Department at 941-932-9378 or Detective Michael Page at 941-932-9314. Callers can remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward of up to $3,000 by calling Crime Stoppers toll free at 1-866-634-8477 (TIPS) or by sending an anonymous tip at Manateecrimestoppers.com.