JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The foster parents of a 4-year-old boy who died in April were arrested Thursday and are now accused in connection with his death.
Alex Pino is charged with second-degree murder and aggravated child abuse and Michelle Sipko is charged with manslaughter and child neglect in the death of James Reese Jr.
During an appearance before a judge on Friday, Pino was ordered to be held without bond pending a June 3 arraignment.
Sipko was ordered held on a $1.5 million bond. Her lawyer questioned the probable cause for arrest, but the State Attorney’s Office said doctors found blunt force trauma indicative of “an ongoing pattern of abuse” of Reese, including at least six fractures, some of which were weeks old.
The prosecutor said Sipko knew of the abuse.
Prosecutors said Reese’s 8-year-old sister wanted to call the police about what was happening to her brother but was told by Sipko, “we don’t call police in this house.”
The judge rejected the probable cause challenge and also set a June 3 arraignment for Sipko.
Reese was brought to Wolfson Children’s Hospital on April 15 for a broken collarbone, and doctors also found head injuries, according to a family member who spoke with News4Jax. Reese died on April 21 from his injuries.
According to a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office database, the incident that caused the boy’s death occurred April 15, but the death was not determined to be a murder until April 22.
Uncle Christopher Nastasi said the arrests mean the family is one step closer to justice.
“I have a little bit of relief that the wheels of justice are turning for now and that James will get justice and that his death was not overlooked and set to the side,” Nastasi said.
Nastasi remembers the day he learned his nephew had died.
“I was in a nightmare and this was not true and that it was too horrific to believe,” he said.
According to a partially redacted arrest warrant, Pino told investigators at the hospital that on the morning of April 15 he gave Reese a bath, took him to his room and told him to get dressed for school. After leaving the room briefly, Pino said he came back to the room and found Reese on the floor not moving.
Pino told JSO he thought the boy was “messing” with him but when he realized it was serious he “pounced” on him and started giving chest compressions, according to an arrest warrant.
A responding Jacksonville Fire And Rescue Department member told investigators, according to the warrant, that Sipko and Pino told them Reese was already dressed for school but urinated on himself which forced him to take another bath and change clothes before he was found unconscious. That information was not shared with investigators by the pair, the warrant noted.
Sipko told police she was not at home during the incident but returned home later to find Reese unconscious.
An investigation found that Reese had been absent from daycare from March 31 until April 12 due to his vaccination lapsing. He got his vaccines on April 7 but did not get a physical as was recommended. Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) visited the home on April 13 and found all the children to be in good health, according to the warrant.
During a search warrant at the home in Jacksonville Heights, investigators found information on nontraumatic intracranial hemorrhaging that appeared to have been printed from an internet search.
According to a neuropathologist who was consulted on the case, the death was “undoubtedly a homicide,” the warrant states. The neuropathologist told investigators there was not a disease or naturally occurring illness or condition that could be confused with the injuries.
According to the redacted warrant, Sipko “had reasonable knowledge that [redacted] needed medical attention for his injuries. Her lack of intervention allowed [redacted] to remain in an abusive environment that ultimately led to his death.”
Loved ones gathered Tuesday to pay their respects to the boy.
The visitation and funeral for Reese Jr. took place at Holly Hill Funeral Home and Memorial Park on Old Jennings Road.
Reese was in their foster care after he and his siblings were removed from the custody of his mother.