GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Michigan man accused along with his wife of starving their 10-month-old daughter to death over the summer told a 911 dispatcher that the baby was "dead as a doornail" when he and his wife found her.
When the dispatcher asked Seth Welch how he was holding up, he replied, "You know, just another day. It is what it is," MLive.com reported.
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The shocking 911 recording was played for the judge Wednesday at a preliminary hearing for Welch and his wife, Tatiana Fusari, both 27, the news site reported. Welch and Fusari are charged with felony murder and first-degree child abuse in the death of Mary Anne Welch.
The baby was found dead Aug. 2 in her crib at her family's Cedar Springs farm. The forensic pathologist who conducted Mary's autopsy told District Judge Sara Smolenski Wednesday that the infant -- who weighed just 8 pounds at the time of her death -- died of "malnutrition associated with dehydration due to neglect of adult caregivers," according to MLive.
Smolenski said she was stunned by Welch’s “callousness” regarding his daughter’s death, as well as by the condition in which Mary was found, MLive said. The girl’s autopsy determined that she was starved over the span of weeks or months and had become so weak, she could not crawl or lift her head.
"It is as horrific as it gets," the judge said, according to the news site. "The skeletal-like posture of the child, in my opinion, speaks volumes, for how long the baby was not cared for properly."
In the 911 recording, a portion of which was obtained by MLive, Welch tells a Kent County dispatcher that one of his children is dead. The couple also has two older children, ages 4 and 2, and Fusari is pregnant with their fourth child.
The dispatcher asks Welch why he thinks his daughter has died, Fox 17 News in Grand Rapids reported.
"I have no idea," Welch responds. "We just woke up and she's dead."
Welch says that his wife tried CPR on Mary, but it didn’t work.
The dispatcher asks Welch how long ago he found his daughter dead. Welch tells the man it had been about 90 minutes because he called his lawyer first.
"I called my lawyer first thing to ask, you know, what's the next thing I should do and they said wait until they're here to call, you know, the police and get that going," Welch says. "Basically, it got to the point where I was waiting so long, I just kind of went ahead and did it anyway. I was waiting on legal counsel."
"So you found the child an hour and a half ago, and called your lawyer first, correct?" the dispatcher asks.
“Yes,” Welch says, telling the dispatcher that he didn’t know if he should call the police or not. “I had no idea what to do.”
Welch, who appeared to weep in court as he listened to his matter-of-fact conversation with the dispatcher, said that he put his daughter to bed around 3 p.m. the day before “and that was that.” He said he found her dead around 10 a.m. -- 19 hours later.
“We finally went in to check on her, going, ‘OK, it’s been way too long.’ You know?”
Welch tells the dispatcher that it was normal for Mary to sleep long hours.
"So you're saying it's normal for your children to sleep from around 3 p.m. to 10 a.m.?" the dispatcher says.
“Yeah, usually about 9, 9:30, yeah,” Welch says.
The dispatcher asks what time the couple’s children usually have dinner, and Welch tells him the children don’t have a set schedule.
As the dispatcher continues to question Welch about the delay, he confirms that Welch believed Mary to already be dead when he found her.
“And that’s when you consulted with a lawyer?” the dispatcher asks.
“Yep,” Welch says.
“Do you believe she was beyond help already?” the dispatcher asks.
"Oh, yeah," Welch responds. "She was dead as a doornail."
Listen to the portion of Seth Welch’s 911 call obtained by MLive below.
A Kent County crime scene investigator testified Wednesday that she found food in the couple's home, but little baby food. The house was filthy, with flies buzzing around and mice droppings in drawers, MLive reported.
Mary’s mattress was dirty and moldy, the investigator said.
Detective Jason Russo, an investigator with the Kent County Sheriff's Office, testified that Fusari told investigators she was still breastfeeding Mary, but that the infant had started eating some solid food. She said she last fed her daughter around 2:30 p.m. Aug. 1, before leaving for her evening shift at McDonald's, according to MLive.
It was not immediately clear if she thought her husband had fed the baby while she was at work, the news site reported. Neither she nor Welch went into the baby’s bedroom until the next morning, when she was found dead.
Russo testified that Welch showed no emotion in his police interview. The father told investigators that he thought Mary was just skinny like her older sister was at her age.
He and Fusari thought the baby was going through a "growth spurt," he told investigators. In a jailhouse interview with WOOD-TV the week after he and his wife were arrested, Welch said it was not unusual for their children to sleep for up to 18 hours at a time during one of those spurts.
MLive reported that Russo also testified that Welch did not regret not seeking medical care for the infant.
"To my recollection, during the interviews I conducted ... he has never expressed or shown any emotion regarding Mary's care or ultimate demise," Russo said on the stand.
Neither Mary nor her brother had ever been to see a doctor, the couple told investigators. They did not trust doctors or Child Protective Services after they were reported to the child welfare agency, allegedly for disagreeing with a doctor’s recommendation for their older daughter.
The couple's feelings about doctors and CPS, as well as their religious beliefs, were topics Welch often discussed in videos he posted on his Facebook page, which is adorned with photos of homemade religious signs posted around their farm. One such sign, painted onto a fence, reads, "Repent. Believe. Obey."
In his frequent videos, Welch read passages from the Bible and gave his interpretation of them. In one video, he called doctors "priesthoods of the medical cult," WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids reported.
Welch also said that God is “sovereign over disease and those sorts of things” and admitted that none of the couple’s three children, including Mary, had been vaccinated.
See Seth Welch’s Aug. 9 jailhouse interview with WOOD-TV below.
"It didn't seem smart that you would be saving people who weren't the fittest," Welch said about vaccines in one video. "If evolution believes in survival of the fittest, why are we vaccinating everybody? Shouldn't we just let the weak die off and let the strong survive?"
Welch proclaimed his innocence in his jailhouse interview with WOOD-TV.
"I believe I am being unfairly charged, being made an example of for my very strong faith," Welch told the news station.
He said he was stunned to learn that he and his wife face life in prison if convicted of the charges against them.
“I was very shocked,” Welch said. “I went to my cell and I cried. I laid down flat on my face and I just cried out in prayer.”
He also criticized media coverage of the case, telling the reporter he would “answer to the Lord for everything that is said against (him).”
Welch told WOOD-TV that he and his wife saw no signs that their daughter was in danger. He said his wife's routine was to breastfeed Mary before going to work.
The couple also fed the baby food from their farm, Welch said.
"In the Bible, it says that good food is our medicine," he said. "We fed her. We were feeding her chicken, potatoes, apples, cheese. We were giving her the good stuff."
He said that he checked on his daughter repeatedly the night of Aug. 1 and into the following morning, but did so without going into her room so he wouldn’t wake her. He said all of the couple’s children would typically cry if they got hungry or needed a diaper change in the middle of the night. When Mary did not wake up crying, he thought she was OK.
Welch said Fusari checked on Mary when she came home from work around 11:30 p.m., and Mary seemed fine. She was the one who found Mary unresponsive and not breathing the following morning, he said.
Fusari began trying to revive her, but he could tell the baby was dead, Welch said.
“She died. It’s a tragedy,” Welch said. “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh.”
Smolenski on Wednesday ordered Welch and Fusari bound over for trial. Both are being held in the Kent County Jail.
Their two surviving children were placed in CPS custody following their arrests, but Welch wrote in an Aug. 2 Facebook post that the children had been placed with their grandparents.
WOOD-TV reported in August that the state was seeking to have the couple's parental rights terminated.
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