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Foster Father Indicted on Upgraded Murder Charge for Allegedly Beating 4-Year-Old to Death


A grand jury indicted a man for allegedly killing his 4-year-old foster son, online records show. Alexander Charles Pino, 30, already faced a count of aggravated child abuse, but the indictment on Thursday in Duval County, Florida upgraded his second-degree murder charge to first-degree murder for young James Reese Jr.’s death on April 21 from what investigators described as blunt force trauma.

Michelle Spiko, 38, is also charged with manslaughter and child neglect.

A pediatrician testified in a probable cause hearing in June that the boy sustained physical abuse, and she opined that this killed him, according to WJXT.

“He was hit by a belt and thrown in a tub,” said Dr. Rebecca Rodriguez Poe.

Detective Howard Saunders, the lead investigator, testified that Reese’s sister said she was with their brother when she heard loud banging from the bathroom next to their room. The sound was from the bathtub, she reportedly said.

“She said she heard James screaming,” Saunders said. He testified under cross-examination that the girl did not see this firsthand.

“Through her words, I believe she demonstrated what she believed he did, but she did not give me a firsthand witness account of seeing him throw her brother into the bathtub,” he said.

The victim’s mother Karissa Garcia told WJXT that she did not have custody of Reese or his three siblings after she suffered domestic violence. Her brother Christopher Nastasi told The Florida Times-Union that authorities “penalized” her because it was difficult for her to get away from the man who abused her. The Department of Children and Families put the children with relatives. That ended with Reese dying brutally.

“These were family members that we had grown up with, spent summer times with,” said Nastasi.

“I didn’t get to say goodbye to him,” Garcia said of her son, according to WJXT. “I miss him. I just wish I could have my baby back.”

She claimed to have seen warning signs when she last spoke to Reese on Zoom.

“I did notice he was crying,” she said. “He really didn’t want to speak to me and he had a lump on the side of his head. They said I couldn’t keep my kids safe, so they wind up removing them and placing them here and there, then this is what happens. You place them somewhere else, and now my son is gone.”

Prosecutors still have to decide if they will seek the death penalty. Reese’s mother wants Pino to live his life out in prison instead of facing capital punishment.

“I don’t want him to do the death penalty,” Garcia told WJXT. “I want him to be in prison for the rest of his life.”

Pino and Spiko have pleaded not guilty to charges.

[Screenshot via WJXT]

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