The Berkshire District Attorney’s office believes a local judge erred last month in dismissing manslaughter charges brought against two Adams foster parents related to the death of an infant in their care.
On the last day allowable, the office filed a notice in Berkshire Superior Court saying it will contest Judge John Agostini’s decision to allow a motion to dismiss by the defendants in the case.
The pro forma notice, submitted Wednesday by Jennifer K. Zalnasky, the office’s chief of appeals, does not specify the legal argument for a higher court’s review.
In his 17-page ruling April 11, Agostini did more than allow the dismissal of charges against Matthew Tucker and Cassandra Barlow-Tucker. The judge offered a sharp rebuke of how the DA’s office handled the case against the couple, calling it “circumstantial and not particularly strong.”
Agostini determined Harrington’s office failed to present adequate evidence against the couple to the grand jury to warrant the charges. The case was prosecuted by Harrington and Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Ilberg-Lamm.
Agostini also took aim in his decision at the way Tucker and Barlow-Tucker were portrayed to grand jurors who considered evidence against them, regarding their care of Kristoff Zenopolous.
The child was found dead in his crib on the morning of Feb. 18, 2020.
A medical examiner ruled that the infant died from complications of strep throat and pneumonia.
On March 23, 2021, a Berkshire grand jury handed up indictments charging Tucker and Barlow-Tucker with involuntary manslaughter. The charges accused them of neglect of their legal duty as caregivers and of reckless endangerment in the child’s death.
At the time of the indictments, Harrington said her office was acting to provide justice for the infant, whose death she called “preventable.”
“No child should die because a caregiver failed to provide basic medical care,” she said. The charge of involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted.
Agostini’s ruling went into detail on the nature of the medical care that the defendants provided, an account that flags their efforts to tend to a sick child’s needs — and points to missteps by the state Department of Children and Families.
The judge wrote last month that prosecutors provided a “hopelessly slanted” picture of actions taken by the couple, in part by downplaying evidence that could have been seen as favorable to the defendants, while attacking their character.
In his decision, the judge said the DA’s office presented evidence to grand jurors that, in his view, had little or nothing to do with the couple’s alleged blame in the infant’s death. Instead, Agostini characterized presentations to grand jurors as “intended simply to portray them as angry and inept foster parents.”
“This is not the standard of conduct the court expects from the Commonwealth in grand jury proceedings,” Agostini wrote.
For example, he noted in his ruling that the DCF social worker assigned to the couple had told state police investigating the child’s death that Tucker and Barlow-Tucker were among the most “conscientious, engaging and forthcoming” foster parents she’d worked with.
The judge wrote that the social worker’s comments on the couple were contained on a “a disk that was submitted but not played to the grand jury.”