Foster mom avoids murder charge in toddler's death

By Ed Runyan

The dead girl’s biological family takes exception to the manslaughter charge.

WARREN — The woman charged with killing her 20-month-old foster child last April in a Champion duplex smothered the girl and grabbed her neck tight enough to leave ring marks on her skin, the Trumbull County prosecutor’s office said Thursday.

But that isn’t evidence that Bonnie Pattinson, 31, intended to kill Tiffany Banks Cross, said Diane Barber, assistant county prosecutor.

That conclusion resulted Thursday in Pattinson’s pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter, which will result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years. The original charges of murder and felonious assault on which she was indicted could have landed her in prison for life.

“There is no evidence that she intended to kill the child,” Barber said after the hearing, explaining why Pattinson was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser offense.

Pattinson will be sentenced by Judge John M. Stuard in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court in four to six weeks, once the county Adult Probation Department conducts a presentence investigation. Pattinson remains in Trumbull County Jail on $1 million bond.

The child’s death has been shrouded in mystery since it happened April 2. Her obituary gave no indication that the death was suspicious or that the girl was in foster care when she died, saying only that she died of natural causes, was the daughter of Thomas Cross and Felicia Banks and that she was survived by two siblings.

Meanwhile, a Champion police report indicated that the girl had suspicious marks on her body when paramedics arrived. Pattinson told police at the time that Tiffany had been asleep about 10 to 20 minutes, and when she checked on her, she wasn’t breathing.

Tiffany was pronounced dead later at the hospital.

The Trumbull County coroner, Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, ruled in July the death was a homicide and said she died of asphyxiation associated with multiple blunt-force injuries.

By this time, Cross and Banks came forward to say that they were the child’s biological parents but that Tiffany had been taken from them at birth and had been reared by foster parents under the supervision of the Trumbull County Children’s Board.

They had not seen the child since the previous November, when they lost permanent custody, and wanted answers as to what happened, they said.

Loretta Banks, Felicia Banks’ mother, said she was further frustrated Thursday to learn that Pattinson had been offered the plea agreement and appeared in court Thursday without the Banks family’s knowledge.

They had attended all of Pattinson’s earlier hearings and thought Pattinson’s next one was today, Loretta Banks said.

“I think they should never have given her an offer like that,” Loretta Banks said. “You can get five years doing drug deals, and she murders a child and gets only 10 — and maybe not even that,” she said.

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