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Berkshire County Superior Court judge dismisses manslaughter case against foster parents

Berkshire County Courthouse, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Kenneth C. Zirkel
/
Creative Commons
Berkshire County Courthouse, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

A Berkshire County Superior Court judge this week dismissed a manslaughter case brought against two foster parents in North Adams, Massachusetts.

About a year after ten-month old Kristoff Zenopolous died in his foster home in February 2020, the Berkshire County District Attorney's office charged foster parents Matthew Tucker and Cassandra Barlow-Tucker with involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

In his decision Monday Superior Court Judge John Agostini wrote "the evidence against the defendants was circumstantial and not particularly strong."

The judge's decision said the infant had a cough, fever and difficulty drinking in the days before he died. The Tuckers gave him children's Motrin and Tylenol and nebulizer treatments as they had been instructed. They also put drops of water in his mouth. On February 17 the baby seemed "more energetic and eating well," according to the Tuckers, but by the next morning he had died.

Agostini wrote the state did not present evidence the Tuckers "knew or should have known" medical care provided at home was "insufficient" and that the infant needed urgent care.

The decision said the evidence showed the opposite -- that workers from the Department of Children & Families and Early Intervention, who visited in the week before he died, showed "no sense of urgency."

The Tuckers had cared for about 20 foster kids before caring for Zenopolous and had four children of their own, two of whom they had adopted.

When the baby was born, according to the judge’s decision, he tested positive for cocaine and methadone. After being placed in the Tucker’s home, the couple did not receive documents from DCF that would have defined who is responsible for medical care. The parents also requested that his care be transferred to a doctor close to where they lived. DCF never approved the request.

Part of the evidence the Berkshire DA's office presented to the grand jury was a blog the foster mother had kept years before fostering Zenopolous about the challenges of foster parenting. The blog included her criticism of the Department of Children & Families. DCF had filed disciplinary action against Barlow-Tucker about the blog because of privacy issues and she had shut it down.

The judge wrote in his decision the evidence presented to the grand jury was quote "intentionally one-sided" and that it highlighted "evidence that suggested the Tuckers were poor foster parents, while burying evidence that they were considered models by DCF..."

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Previously she served as the editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub, a collaborative of public radio stations. Earlier in her career she was the Midwest editor for NPR in Washington, D.C. Before working in radio, she recorded sound as part of a camera crew for network television news, with assignments in Russia, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba and in Sarajevo during the war in 1992.
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