A Colorado couple has been charged in the deaths of their two infant children, who died two years apart sleeping in the same bed with the parents, authorities said.
Gregory Tyler Newton, 27, and Tierra Monet Collins, 28, of Aurora, were charged with two counts of second-degree child abuse in the deaths of 7-month-old Azian Newton and 3-month-old Nazairean Newton. They were scheduled to appear in court next month for a pre-trial conference. If convicted, they could face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine for each charge.
The couple had been drinking or taking drugs before both infants died, according to authorities.
Azian died in July 2014, according to the couple’s arrest affidavit. The cause and manner of death were “undetermined,” but the autopsy noted the baby was in an “unsafe sleep environment” in a bed with his parents. The Aurora Police Department investigated, but filed no charges.
Two years later, in June 2016, police again were called to the apartment Newton and Collins shared, this time to investigate the death of their second child, Nazairean. The parents, according to the arrest affidavit, reeked of alcohol and didn’t appear upset.
“Tyler and Tierra were both calm,” the affidavit says.
Authorities said the apartment was “filthy,” with trash, cigarette butts and “empty alcoholic beverage bottles strewn all over.”
Newton told investigators he and Collins had been drinking and smoking marijuana the night before, according to the affidavit. He acknowledged the child slept in the bed with the couple, and said he “was not comfortable” with the arrangement, the affidavit says. Newton added that Collins is a “heavy sleeper,” police said.
Newton’s sister, Jennifer, told police Collins is a heavy drinker and had seen her consume alcohol during at least one of her pregnancies.
Collins, interviewed by investigators in September, said she was a light sleeper and had been comfortable co-sleeping with her children. She acknowledged she had been warned about the dangers of co-sleeping, police said.
“Tierra said she was told by the nurse that mothers can smother their babies by co-sleeping, but Tierra felt that co-sleeping had benefits,” an investigator said, according to the affidavit.
During the investigation, detectives revisited the file in the 2014 death of Azian. The documents included a two-year-old interview with Collins’ brother, Jeffrey, who admitted smoking marijuana with his sister the day Azian died, police said.
Arapahoe County Coroner Dr. Kelly C. Lear-Kaul was unable to determine an exact cause of death for either baby. As in the first death, the autopsy for Nazairean noted an “unsafe sleep environment.”
Lear-Kaul said in an interview with KDVR News that both children likely died from suffocation.
“I believe that’s the most likely cause, [but] I can’t prove that,” Lear-Kaul said. “Asphyxial deaths don’t leave any marks in most cases, so there’s nothing for me to see at autopsy.”
The district attorney’s office “will have no comment until after sentencing,” said spokeswoman Vikki Migoya.
Newton and Collins were unavailable for comment. They spoke briefly with KDVR News in December, after Collins showed up at the courthouse to attend a hearing on a DUI charge from September.
“I love my kids and I was doing the best that I thought I could do for my kids,” Collins said. “I did not do anything criminally wrong.”
“I didn’t blame myself,” Newton told the station. “It’s an unfortunate act. You know we ... we’re young, but no, I never blamed myself.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics, in guidelines issued last year to reduce sudden infant deaths, recommended that parents sleep in the same room with their babies, but not in the same bed. “This arrangement is most likely to prevent suffocation, strangulation, and entrapment that may occur when the infant is sleeping in the adult bed,” the academy said in a policy statement published in the journal Pediatrics.