News and Tribune

July 11, 2013

Deaths of mother, children determined to be an accident

Grand jury finds hypothermia caused deaths

By CHRIS MORRIS
chris.morris@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY —

The unusual deaths of a mother and her two children in a Binford Park creek have been determined to be an accident.

A grand jury met for five days, interviewed 17 witness and concluded there was no criminal wrongdoing in the deaths of Jaime Clutter, 35, and her children, 10-year-old Brandon Clutter and 6-month-old Katelyn Clutter on March 13.

Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson revealed the grand jury’s findings Thursday. He said after all the interviews and investigations, the grand jury found no evidence that Jaime Clutter or her husband Michael had anything to do with the deaths. The Kentucky Medical Examiner concluded the cause of deaths as drownings, and that there was no struggle.

Jaime Clutter and her two children were last seen at about 7 a.m. on March 13 by a friend who stated they were not properly dressed for the cold temperatures when they knocked on her door. Wind chills that day were in the teens, Henderson said.

Henderson also said investigators know Jaime Clutter left her Sheffield Square apartment abruptly for some reason. 

The bodies of the mother and two children were found naked in the water later that day around 5 p.m. Henderson said an expert has stated that a person can become very disoriented and in some cases feel hot due to extreme hypothermia and disrobe .

“Hypothermia played a major role in the actions of Jaime Clutter that morning,” Henderson said in a Thursday news conference at the City-County Building. “We believe the deaths were accidental. There was no evidence of any kind of struggle.”

In May, the New Albany Police Department released its findings that the three drowned, but that “mental illness was the underlying cause of these tragic events,” according to NAPD Chief Sherri Knight. NAPD Detective Carrie East said that Jaime Clutter’s behavior “was concerning” to some witnesses leading up to March 13. She said Clutter was incoherent and delusional. Both Knight and East said Clutter spoke of a “demonic presence.” 

However, the grand jury found no evidence to blame mental illness as the reason for the deaths. 

“We don’t know her state of confusion or disorientation. We know she went to a friend’s home around 7 a.m. and was not dressed properly for the cold,” Henderson said. “I think it’s speculation to make a mental health diagnosis on someone who is deceased. 

“We have to protect the integrity of the deceased,” he added. “There were no mental health records and none of her friends think they existed.”

Henderson said the facts state that Michael Clutter left for work around 5 a.m. on March 13, and that Jaime Clutter was last seen around 7 a.m. 

There are no other witnesses from that point until the bodies were found around 5 p.m. He said the witness who spoke to Jaime Clutter said the mother of two seemed to be disturbed and upset about something. Not only did she leave her apartment without coats, but also without her eyeglasses.

“Something caused her great concern because of the abruptness in which she left the apartment,” Henderson said. “It’s a bizarre set of circumstances. It’s difficult for the family and community to comprehend. That is one of the reasons I felt compelled to assemble a grand jury. In the end the grand jury does not believe Jaime Clutter killed her two children and does not believe she committed suicide.” 

He said the grand jury does not believe the mother was performing some sort or religious ritual in the creek. Police say a Bible was found near the creek.

“People who suffer from extreme cold can become very disoriented,” Henderson said.

Jaime Clutter’s body had marks on it, but Henderson said they were consistent with being in a rushing creek.

Henderson said friends and family members have said 10-year-old Brandon was of above-average intelligence and a “very loving child.” He said Brandon’s body showed no signs of a struggle and that hypothermia led to his eventual drowning.

“There is no evidence to suggest Jaime was attempting to kill her children,” Henderson said.

As for the perceived rift between the prosecutor’s office and the NAPD, Henderson said he felt it necessary to convene a grand jury since the police department failed to communicate their findings in the case. He said he had no contact with investigators for six weeks and as the chief law enforcement officer in the county, said he needs to be kept informed of any investigation.

“In my 15 years as prosecutor, and seven years with the state police, I can never recall a major case like this where I didn’t receive their findings until the day of their press conference,” he said. “I received no reports after our initial meeting. I received nothing. If the headlines are correct [Jaime Clutter killed her two children] then I need to make that determination after receiving the information.”

He said his office has no problem with the NAPD and works with officers daily on cases. 

“There is no rift, but if I am not kept apprised of a case and no one will answer questions from me, I have to convene a grand jury,” Henderson said. “One way or another I have to know what is going on. It’s easier when we are involved in the beginning. I don’t know if they have had a change in policy.”

Knight was called for comment on this story but as of deadline, had not returned the call.