A Homestead mother accused of killing her toddler in a burning-hot bath could face the death penalty after a grand jury indicted her for first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.
Christina Hurt, shackled and in a jail jumpsuit, appeared in court Friday to plead not guilty as prosecutors announced the upgraded criminal charge in the January death of 1-year-old Ethan Cooley.
Hurt, who had a long and troubling history of abusing her children, is accused of refusing to take Ethan to a hospital after he suffered burns in the bathtub. She claimed to police that her 10-year-old daughter put Ethan in the hot bath, causing him "severe burns" and "peeling skin."
But Hurt did not seek medical help for the baby, instead calling friends to ask "about remedies on treating burn injuries," according to an arrest report.
The child suffered overnight, throwing up, and became "lethargic" the next day as she took her other children to school — even bypassing Homestead Hospital, police said.
Neighbors and friends urged Hurt to call 911, but she "adamantly refused" for fear that child welfare authorities would take the boy from her. That morning, a neighbor called 911 after seeing the child had "become unresponsive," the report said.
Hurt was initially charged with aggravated child abuse and manslaughter. The latter charge was upgraded to second-degree murder before prosecutors took the case to the grand jury on Wednesday.
In Miami, prosecutors uniformly seek the death penalty on all cases of first-degree murder. The cases are then reviewed by a panel of senior prosecutors, who recommend whether the death penalty should be waived; State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle ultimately decides whether to continue seeking execution as punishment.
Medical experts believe Ethan's injuries "were not consistent" with Hurt's story to police, leading a judge to approve a search warrant. In May, experts entered the property to do "additional measurements and tests" on the bathtub and water heater, according to the warrant.
Hurt was no stranger to Florida's Department of Children and Families.
Even before Ethan was born, she had twice lost custody of her five children.
The first time came in July 2014, when her then-3-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a skull fracture and a gash on her scalp. Hurt took the girl to school with a bow on her headcovering an oozing wound. The girl told authorities her mother pushed her off a bed when she wet the sheets. Hurt claimed the girl simply fell.
A judge eventually ordered Hurt's children returned to her, despite a recommendation from DCF that they remain under state care because of "Ms. Hurt's inability to safely care for and meet the needs of her children," according to state records.
But the children were taken away again in June 2015, after more reports of instability and abuse. A judge again ordered the children returned to Hurt in 2017, although they remained under the supervision of DCF.
After Ethan's death in January, DCF completed an investigation that concluded that the entire child-welfare system failed Ethan, including a rookie therapist who insisted Hurt be reunited with her children, abuse investigators and the Miami-Dade judge who allowed the kids to be returned to her.