A sailor and his wife have been indicted on a charge of second-degree murder in the death of their 3-month-old child in March on the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse.
A Plaquemines Parish grand jury on Wednesday indicted Xavier and Calendria Houston, both 27, on one count each of second-degree murder, four counts of cruelty to juveniles and two counts of second-degree cruelty to juveniles.
Medics responded to a call at the family’s home inside the base at 7:30 a.m. March 15 to find an unresponsive 3-month-old girl, according to a statement from base spokesman Andrew Thomas.
The infant did not respond to efforts to save her life.
Plaquemines Parish District Attorney Charles Ballay, whose office received the case from the Naval Criminal Investigative Services, called the child abuse case one of the worst he’s seen.
A lawyer for Calendria Houston, meanwhile, said the child’s death was not intentional.
“The living conditions (were) horrible,” Ballay said. “Squalor is another word used by some. Very unkempt. Dirty. Waste, feces, urine.”
Ballay said an autopsy found that the girl died from suffocating while face-down in the crib on a blanket or some sort of padding.
The girl was identified in the indictment only by her initials, K.E.H. She was born Dec. 7.
Plaquemines Parish Public Defender Matthew Robnett said Calendria Houston was “devastated by the loss of her child, and we were surprised to see the second-degree murder charge come down.”
Under Louisiana law, parents can be convicted of second-degree murder even if they have no intention of killing a child, as long as they have inflicted cruelty on him or her.
The Plaquemines Parish Coroner’s Office ruled the girl’s death a homicide, according to chief investigator John Marie.
“Ms. Houston absolutely did not intend to kill her child, nor do I believe she did actively kill her child,” Robnett said.
The Houstons’ five other children, including a twin sister of the deceased girl, are safe and in government custody, according to Ballay. The children range in age from 3 months to 4 1/2 years.
Ballay also raised concerns about how six children could have been left in such squalid conditions.
“How can this go unnoticed?” he asked. “And that’s the thing that really amazes us, how nobody noticed this situation or brought it to the attention or action of appropriate authorities that could have saved the life of this young child.”
Base spokesman Thomas said that to the best of his knowledge, authorities were never alerted about the children’s condition until the mother’s March 15 call for help.
The family lived in housing run under a joint public-private venture with Patrician Military Housing. Patrician area manager Veronica Billiot declined to comment.
“I’d hope that the base commander and the folks there are looking into how this condition could exist on the base and how the housing people at this housing complex could allow this to happen,” Ballay said. “And I trust that they will.”
NCIS Public Information Officer Ed Buice declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation but said base authorities have been fully cooperative.
The Houstons’ arraignment has been set for June 22.