Hearings scheduled in Perry County boy's 2005 death

Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Southeast Missourian file
Emily and Michael Altom appear in court in 2005 over the death of their son, Ethan Patrick Williams.

There could be a resolution soon in the criminal case against a Perry County couple charged with manslaughter in the 2005 death of 4-year-old Ethan Patrick Williams, defense attorney Allen Moss said Tuesday.

Emily Altom, Ethan's mother, and Michael Altom, his stepfather, are scheduled for separate hearings next month in Rolla, Mo., to determine whether the criminal charges against them should be dismissed. The hearing for Michael Altom is set for Dec. 3, while Emily Altom's dismissal hearing is set for Dec. 18.

Ethan died after a 25-day hospital struggle against a staph infection.

Because of Veterans Day, the Phelps County circuit clerk could not be reached to determine why the hearing, the first in more than three years in the case, had been scheduled. Moss said Monday that it was a routine hearing, ordered by the court, to find out the status of the case.

But Moss added that the case may be over before those hearings. He said he has meetings scheduled later this week with the Altoms to discuss a possible resolution.

Ethan Patrick Williams

"I think there is going to be an announcement relatively soon in that case," Moss said. "But unless the manslaughter charge is dismissed, the case will not be resolved."

The Altoms are charged with voluntary manslaughter, accused of medical neglect of Ethan in the days leading up to his hospitalization. They are also charged with three counts each of felony child endangerment because of the excessive filth that had accumulated in the rural Perry County mobile home they shared with Ethan, his older brother and younger half-brother.

The filth found when law enforcement and child protection officers visited the mobile home in early August 2005 included dirty dishes piled on counters, floors thick with garbage from beer cans and food debris and an overwhelming stench of animal feces and urine.

Perry County Prosecuting Attorney Tom Hoeh did not return an e-mail seeking comment. A call to his Perryville office was not answered.

Ethan died of a drug-resistant staph infection that had spread to his thigh bone and his lungs. His brothers were diagnosed with milder cases of a similar infection when they were removed from the Altoms' control by state child neglect investigators.

The Altoms were last in court Dec. 2, 2005, when Associate Circuit Judge Michael Bullerdieck found there was sufficient evidence to send the case to trial.

The case was moved to Phelps County on a change of venue. Since that action, the only activity in the case has been depositions from potential witnesses, including medical personnel. No notices of depositions have been filed since July 2007.

Moss said if the case is not resolved soon, he has a deposition scheduled with the St. Louis City Medical Examiner in January.

"That is the last deposition I need to take before the case goes to trial," Moss said.

If the case goes to trial, Moss said he will ask that the Altoms be tried separately and that the judge hold separate trials on the manslaughter and child endangerment charges.

The lengthy delays have upset the family of Ethan's father, Wayne Williams. His mother, Patricia Williams, said Tuesday that Hoeh has not returned calls from the family seeking information.

"He won't talk to us," Patricia Williams said. "I have made numerous calls to him, and he will not return any of my calls."

Asked whether she believed the Altoms should be punished, Patricia Williams had one answer: "My grandson suffered a long time, 25 days, before he went up to heaven."

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

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