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Mother, boyfriend charged in 15-month-old's January death

Toddler was tied up, asphyxiated, police say; man's estranged wife shocked

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A man and woman were arrested Thursday and charged in the January death of a 15-month-old boy in Jacksonville who police said died from asphyxiation after being tied and gagged to get him to stop crying.

The arrests came three months after Isaiah Keller died Jan. 22. 

Andre Keller, who is not Isaiah's biological father, was charged with murder and aggravated child abuse. Isaiah's mother, Lori Hopper, was charged with aggravated manslaughter.

Police said it took some time for the autopsy results to conclusively determine the cause of death. Initially, there were no visible signs of foul play.

Hopper and Keller were supposed to make a first appearance at the Duval County Jail on Friday, but jail officials said the judge waived that appearance after the two refused to leave their cells.

Police said that Keller and Hopper initially told them that while living at the Diamond Inn on Ramona Boulevard near Lane Avenue and I-10, they gave Isaiah a bottle and put him down to sleep, and then later found him unresponsive. He died at the hospital. JSO said the baby lived at the hotel with the couple, along with Keller's three biological children.

Police said that during the course of the investigation, two of those children told detectives that they had seen Keller in the past tie up Isaiah, in order to get him to stop crying. Hopper later confessed that was true and happened the day Isaiah died, police said.

Keller's estranged wife, Jeannette Keller, told News4Jax on Friday that their children will never be the same after seeing what happened in that room.

"(They told me), just like it says in the police report, that he wrapped the blanket around the baby's throat and tied him up and that he had done it in previous occasions," she said. "My kids are going though a lot with everything. My kids are doing great. They say they love their father and I know they do. We are just taking it day by day."

Jeannette Keller said she no longer knows the man she had three children with during their nine-year marriage. 

"I'm in shock. You never want to believe that someone you had kids with would do that to another child, and I've been trying to wrap my mind around it since January -- that he could have done something like that," Jeannette Keller said. "I'm in shock that the father of my children is being accused of this and I'm happy that they have evidence that he did it."

She said she first found out in January that Keller and his girlfriend were suspects in Isaiah's death, but it was the call she received Friday that nearly put her on the floor.

"I was on the way to see my children today and I got a phone call stating that they had got them and I was in shock. I about fainted in McDonald's. I'm still in shock," Jeannette Keller said. 

Other members of Keller's family also said Friday that they were shocked by the charges.

"We want answers just like everybody else. We kept asking, 'What happened?’ And then we also told him, 'Whatever happened, just tell the truth. We want to know,'” said Keller’s cousin, Ashley Norris. “At the end of the day, I don't see him as a violent person. I would not take up for anybody killing a baby."

Sources said Hopper is from Palatka and met Keller while pregnant when she moved to Jacksonville. Keller's family members said he signed baby Isaiah's birth certificate when he was born. 

Norris said it's hard to believe Keller would hurt the boy, because he was a great father who took care of his children and treated Isaiah as his own son.

“I've never seen my cousin do that. He was a caring father,” Norris said. “Andre is a great father. This is what is so confusing.”

Though Jeannette Keller said she hasn't spoken to her estranged husband since the incident, but if she had to, she would ask him, "Why?"

"Why would would you put our kids through that? Why? Our kids love you and they need a father, but you need help," she said.

Court records show Keller has a history of domestic violence. A few women have taken out injunctions against him, including an ex-wife. Right now, it is unclear how Keller had custody of his three older children, given his background.

News4Jax was told the Department of Children and Families placed Keller's three children in the care of other family members. 

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.