Crime

His girlfriend’s baby was dead. Bradenton murder suspect kept changing his story

Video clip of police interview with baby murder defendant

In an recorded interview with Bradenton Police Det. Jim Curulla, Eric Neri tells different versions of what happened to baby Tariah White, who died from a blow to the back of the head. Neri is on trial for the baby's murder.
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In an recorded interview with Bradenton Police Det. Jim Curulla, Eric Neri tells different versions of what happened to baby Tariah White, who died from a blow to the back of the head. Neri is on trial for the baby's murder.

Exactly how 10-month-old Tariah White ended up with her skull crushed in and brain bleeding, ultimately killing her, may never be known by anyone other than the person responsible.

But on Wednesday, the jury watched a recorded interview from Aug. 23, 2016, in which defendant Eric Neri, the child’s mother’s boyfriend, gave detectives four different accounts over seven hours of what happened — none of which explained the skull fracture and other injuries that caused Tariah to die.

According to an autopsy, Tariah died because of a single blow to the back of her head.

Neri, 23, is charged with second-degree murder. The trial got underway Monday and is expected to last all week.

Eric Neri has been charged with second-degree murder in the Bradenton case.

Tariah and her 3-year-old brother were home alone with Neri while their mother went to work during the time when Tariah sustained her injuries, according to police and prosecutors. The children’s grandmother came over about two hours after their mother left for work, realized Tariah was cold to the touch and had discharge coming from her nose and rushed the baby to the hospital.

TariahWhite
Tariah White provided photo

On Wednesday, the jury watched a redacted version of the recorded interview lasting four-and-a-half hours. In the interview, Neri first claimed ignorance to Bradenton police detectives and then changed his story several times.

Neri shifted the blame to the girl’s mother, Tronesh Sparkles Ackerman,, when he first changed his story, claiming that Ackerman dropped her on the TV. He then changed the story to say that Tariah had fallen off the bed several times in the days leading up to her death while in Ackerman’s care.

In a third explanation, Neri also blamed Ackerman, saying that he heard a thump and turned to see Tariah on the floor in front of the television crying. He claimed that Ackerman told him that she dropped Tariah and the girl hit her head on the television.

Ackerman, who has been in federal custody after pleading guilty to several armed robberies of fast-food restaurants and a convenience store, testified Tuesday but never showed any emotion. Her mother, the children’s grandmother, did cry when she took the stand Tuesday.

Homicide detective James Curulla handled a majority of the questioning during the recorded interview along with lead detective Michael Page and others. There are many times during the interview when detectives come and go from the room.

But it is after Neri had been questioned for more than six hours that Curulla changed his tactics, dropping a “good cop” approach and yelling at Neri after showing him the autopsy photos of Tariah’s injuries.

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Bradenton Police Detective Michael Page sits on the witness stand as the jury listens to hours of recorded interviews with Eric Neri, charged in the death of baby Tariah White. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

“You’re not telling the whole story. You know what happened,” Curulla shouts. “That child’s head is caved in. ... That didn’t happen from falling on the TV. It didn’t happen that way. It’s being slammed into something and it’s about (expletive) time you tell us what happened.”

But Neri pleads, “I didn’t put my hands on her.”

Neri finally told detectives that he was cooking and playing with Tariah’s 3-year-old brother and when he ran to the kitchen while holding Tariah to check on the food, he slipped and fell, landing on top of the baby. He sobbed to Curulla, claiming it was an accident.

Ultimately, after being told they were going to take him to the apartment so he could reenact the fall, Curulla and others walk in and Neri is handcuffed.

“You’re actually going to jail, but you already knew that,” Curulla said.

Tariah White 3
Tariah White

Jessica De Leon has been covering crime, courts and law enforcement for the Bradenton Herald since 2013. She has won numerous awards for her coverage including the Florida Press Club’s Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting in 2016 for her coverage into the death of 11-year-old Janiya Thomas.
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