Local News

Child hadn’t consumed food in two days, witness says

— At the time 9-month-old Milo Rupert was found dead in his crib on July 7, 2012, he hadn’t digested any food in two days, an associate medical examiner testified Thursday during the trial of Milo’s mother.

And in a graphic illustration of that a photo of the child’s intestines was provided to the jury in the trial of Sandra Michelle Jackson as proof that he hadn’t digested food in two days.

Jackson, of Avon Park, has been charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child, one count of child neglect with great harm and three counts of child neglect without great harm. Her boyfriend, Kyle Rupert, who originally faced the same charges, plead guilty last year and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office arrested the pair after an autopsy showed that Milo died of malnutrition. An investigation also showed that his three sisters, who survived, were malnourished.

The investigation showed that the children, as well as Jackson and Kyle Rupert, lived in a dirty, roach-infested apartment.

While the defense contends that Kyle Rupert either strangled or smothered Milo, apparently in an attempt to make him stop crying, Vera Volnikh, the associate medical examiner, stuck with her finding that Milo died from malnutrition caused by neglect.

An autopsy showed that he was undernourished and his organs, including his heart, were smaller than a child who had normal growth at that age, she said.

Very few people at his age could have survived with his weight, she said.

Volnikh said typically children are growing rapidly at that age.

“Instead of gaining weight, he’s losing weight,” she said. Because he was unable to feed himself at that age, she added, that’s why the death was considered a homicide.

Robert Gray, the attorney for Sandra Jackson, questioned Volnikh extensively about contusions on Milo’s body and whether those could occur if Milo was strangled or smothered. Gray questioned whether Volnikh had changed her testimony from a deposition regarding when the contusions occurred and the significance of those contusions.

But she insisted that the contusions alone did not cause Milo’s death and that other evidence that would show that wasn’t present.

She said that while one injury might be consistent with someone trying to prevent Milo from breathing through his mouth, no corresponding evidence was found that they had pinched his nose or did something else to prevent him from breathing through his nose.

Earlier Thursday, jurors heard more of a videotaped statement Jackson gave to Robert Neale, a detective with the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.

In that statement, Jackson agreed she knew that the children weren’t as healthy as they should have been and that Milo was not gaining weight like he should have been doing. She also agreed with Neale that while she had insisted she forgot doctor’s appointments for Milo, she also was concerned if she took Milo to the doctor, the doctor might have contacted the state and her children would have been taken away by Florida Department of Children and Families.

Jackson, who cried during some of the video interview, also conceded that had she fed Milo the day before he died, he might be still living.


(863) 386-5834