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Man charged in death of 2-year-old

Daniel J. Gross
Frederick News Post

(9/6) A 2-year-old boy is dead and a Thurmont man is in jail amid an investigation into what prosecutors are calling "one of the worst" cases of child abuse.

Robert Dean Watkins was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital on Thursday and later flown to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Washington in critical condition. He died Sunday from severe injuries.

Raymond Matthew Brittle, 39, is charged with first- and second-degree child abuse in connection with the child’s injuries. He is being held without bail at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center.

At about 5 p.m. Thursday, Brittle became angry with the child for not eating dinner at their Apples Church Road home, according to charging documents obtained from Frederick County District Court.

Brittle then shook Robert’s head and kicked him into kitchen cabinets, causing severe skull fractures and bruising, charging documents state.

Frederick County Sheriff’s Office investigators learned of the abuse after interviewing family members.

They initially told investigators that the boy had fallen down a flight of stairs, but later said Brittle told them to make up the story, said Assistant State’s Attorney Tammy Leache.

"It was pretty apparent immediately that it was not a fall down the stairs," she said.

Brittle wore an orange-striped jumpsuit and was handcuffed while appearing via closed-circuit television at a Monday bail review hearing.

His only responses to Frederick County District Judge Janice Ambrose were "Yes, ma’am."

Leache said an investigation determined that Brittle had admitted to his wife that he lost control.

Assistant Public Defender Kevin Young declined to comment at the hearing.

Brittle was the child’s stepgrandfather and Robert was in his care for the past five to six months, according to Leache.

The boy had referred to him as "Pappy," she said.

Leache said the damage to the child’s skull and swelling to his brain made him inoperable. He was taken off life support.

"There was not a spot on his body where his skin was not bruised and bloody," Leache said. "This is one of the worst I’ve ever seen."

The boy’s body will undergo an autopsy today at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore.

Sheriff’s deputies are conducting a homicide investigation.

Capt. Tim Clarke said the sheriff’s office was first made aware of the case when Frederick Memorial Hospital staff admitted Robert and hospital staff suspected child abuse.

He said the boy was already unconscious when he was admitted to FMH.

Four other children, including a 5-month-old, live at Brittle’s residence but have since been taken away and are staying with a relative, Leache and Clarke said. The other children are 6, 9 and 15 years old.

A preliminary investigation found no signs of abuse to the other children, according to authorities.

Clarke said the sheriff’s office "absolutely anticipates" filing additional charges in the case.

"There’s a lot to do, and we won’t charge until we’re absolutely ready," he said.

Leache and State’s Attorney Charlie Smith met with detectives on Monday to discuss additional charges against Brittle. The additional charges would be brought before the grand jury once the investigation ends, Smith said.

Convictions on the current child abuse charges carry a maximum sentence of 40 years.

(9/17) A Thurmont woman has joined her husband behind bars in the child abuse case that left a 2-year-old in their custody fatally beaten.

Melissa Dawn Brittle, 36, was arrested Friday and is being held on $350,000 bail.

She is charged with second-degree child abuse and being an accessory in the act after authorities say her husband, Raymond Matthew Brittle, 39, whipped, shook and kicked Robert Dean Watkins, who later died from severe skull fractures.

Raymond Brittle, who was arrested Sept. 6, is charged with first- and second-degree child abuse.

Raymond Brittle is being held without bail. Prosecutors said he abused Robert after the child did not want to eat his dinner inside their Thurmont home Sept. 6. Raymond Brittle whipped Robert with a belt, shook him by the head and kicked him on the floor to the point where his head was hitting kitchen cabinets, according to state charging documents obtained in Frederick County District Court.

Frederick County Assistant State’s Attorney Tammy Leache said Melissa Brittle was washing dishes while Raymond Brittle was in the same room beating Robert.

"At one point, she said she had to leave the room because it became so bad," Leache said.

Melissa Brittle later took Robert, who was unconscious, to Frederick Memorial Hospital and told medical staff he fell down a flight of stairs. Hospital personnel notified the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office when Robert’s injuries were inconsistent with a fall. Robert was flown to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Washington but died Sept. 8.

A chief medical examiner later ruled the death a homicide by blunt force trauma, according to the charging documents.

The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office determined that Melissa Brittle lied about Robert’s injuries to cover up the abuse and did not intervene because she was afraid, charging documents state.

Melissa Brittle consented to a recorded phone conversation as part of the criminal investigation, and charging documents show the two discussed responsibility for the child’s abuse.

"Why did you do it to him?" Melissa Brittle said to Raymond Brittle, according to charging documents.

"Missy you were right there when I did everything. You said he needed his ass beat," Raymond Brittle responded, according to charging documents.

Charging documents state that Melissa and Raymond Brittle had told their own children to make up a false story to tell authorities.

Their children — ages 15, 9 and 6 — have been placed in the custody of her sister-in-law while the two face charges.

Authorities are still interviewing the children to determine if there have been other cases of child abuse.

"There was definitely corporal punishment going on, but we don’t know for sure to what extent. The children were pretty confused after being prompted so much from their parents," Leache said. "From what we know, the little boy had been taking the brunt of it starting about a month before (he was killed). The level of abuse had become a daily thing."

Robert’s biological mother had given him to Raymond and Melissa Brittle to care for him about five or six months ago, Leache said.

Leache said she hoped Melissa Brittle’s $350,000 bail would increase but is not concerned about her posting bail since she does not have a job or source of income.

Assistant Public Defender Kevin Young asked District Judge Janice Ambrose to lower the bail amount since Melissa Brittle has no criminal history.

"She did cooperate with police. ... Insight into the case did come from her," he said during a Monday bail review. "She’s trying to find a way to establish an income."

Ambrose kept the bail at $350,000.

"I understand the severity of this case. You can’t hardly get worse charges than this," she said.

Prosecutors have not determined a reason for the abuse, but Leache said it may be due to the physical and financial burden of providing care to a child that was not their own.

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