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Boy, 7, dies after Father's Day attack

Child's father is accused in murder inquiry

By Scott J. Croteau
Worcester Telegram &Amp; Gazette / June 24, 2009
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WORCESTER - A 7-year-old boy died yesterday, the Worcester district attorney’s office said, after being attacked on Father’s Day by his father, who allegedly slammed the boy’s head into a wall.

A murder investigation is now underway, and authorities are reviewing evidence collected by investigators involving the attack on Nathaniel Turner, said Timothy J. Connolly, spokesman for the district attorney.

The boy was at UMass Memorial Medical Center and on life-support earlier yesterday, and the state Department of Children and Families had taken custody of him, said Alison Goodwin, the department’s spokeswoman.

Connolly said Nathaniel was declared “clinically dead’’ at 4:10 p.m. yesterday by a doctor at the hospital.

Laurie S. Raphaelson, a lawyer who said she was appointed medical guardian ad litem for Nathaniel, said there will be a hearing at 2:30 p.m. today at which a juvenile court judge will determine whether to remove Nathaniel’s life support.

Police said that for at least eight weeks, the boy had been physically and mentally abused by his father, Leslie G. Schuler. The alleged assaults ended on Father’s Day, Sunday, with what police described as a vicious attack that left the boy hospitalized in grave condition.

Schuler and his girlfriend, Tiffany Hyman, were arraigned in Central District Court yesterday on charges stemming from the alleged assaults.

According to the boy’s family, it was just a few months ago that Schuler received a court order allowing him to have summer custody of Nathaniel, who for most of his life lived with his grandmother in Alabama.

Investigators from the Police Department Special Crimes Division were called to St. Vincent Hospital Monday morning after Schuler and Hyman arrived there with Nathaniel. The boy was unconscious, police said.

“Apparently, the boy had suffered substantial injuries throughout his body,’’ said the Police Department spokesman, Sergeant Kerry F. Hazelhurst. “He had recent bruising all over his chest, stomach, neck, and face area. The child was unconscious and unresponsive.’’

Investigators interviewed Schuler and Hyman and said they learned that a series of assaults had occurred over the eight weeks since the boy arrived from Alabama. The most recent was on Sunday, authorities said.

Police arrested Schuler, 36, and Hyman, 28, after the pair spoke with the detectives.

In court yesterday, Schuler was charged with two counts of assault and battery on a child causing serious bodily injuries, five counts of assault and battery on a child with injuries, two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, and one count of assault to murder. He was held on $250,000 cash bail.

Hyman was charged with two counts of assault and battery on a child causing serious bodily injuries. While it appears she did not assault the child, police said, she could have intervened and stopped the abuse.

Her lawyer, Jose Rosario, said police reports contained no information showing his client touched the child at all.

Not-guilty pleas were entered for both defendants. Schuler’s lawyer, Christopher Tully, said his client was remorseful.

Relatives of the boy at the courthouse yesterday morning described Nathaniel as a handsome, free-spirited boy. He reportedly had been sleeping on the floor of a bedroom after Schuler removed his toys and furniture as a disciplinary measure for disrespect, according to Special Crimes Division Lieutenant William P. O’Connor.

The boy was also allegedly whipped with a belt and beaten several times, with the most serious attack coming Sunday, police said.

O’Connor said Schuler allegedly told police that Nathaniel disrespected him and that a series of disciplinary actions took place. The discipline started with taking things away from the boy, but then escalated to physical abuse, O’Connor said.

Schuler allegedly slammed the child’s head so hard into a bedroom wall that it left a dent, police said.

Lisa Carter, a cousin of Nathaniel’s biological mother, said the alleged assaults could have been avoided.

“He could have dropped him [off] to us if he couldn’t handle him,’’ she said. “. . . He’s only had the kid only a month, and now this happened.’’

The boy’s birth mother did not want to speak to reporters, and family members refused to give her name to reporters.

Court records list the mother as Alicia Turner, who lost a child in September 2002. Diantea Schuler, 3 at the time, died of injuries suffered in a fire at the family’s home.

Nathaniel’s family said that Schuler always knew he was Nathaniel’s father, but a few months ago he requested and received a court order to have DNA testing done to prove it.

Schuler then received a court order to have summer custody of the child. Nathaniel had been living in Alabama with his grandmother, who has legal custody, family members said.

The birth mother was taking care of the child on weekends while he was in the city, but Schuler did not allow her to see the boy recently, according to the family. Police said the boy also was recently not allowed to leave his father’s home.

Family members were upset with the Probate and Family Court for allowing Schuler to have summer visitation with Nathaniel.