Parents arrested in death of toddler

FORT WORTH -- According to their Facebook pages, the parents of 9-month-old Zoey Marie Stewart said she died of sudden infant death syndrome.

But toxicology tests later revealed that Zoey died Jan. 23 of acute oxycodone intoxication.

On Thursday, Miranda Nicole Pauli, 22, and Robert Ellrey Ray, 19, both of Watauga, were arrested on warrants accusing them of criminal negligent homicide, a second-degree felony, in connection with Zoey's death.

Fort Worth police say an investigation revealed that Zoey had ingested an unknown amount of stolen prescription drugs that had spilled on the floor.

"Witnesses described Zoey as playful and active prior to the pills being spilled and tired and groggy afterward," said Sgt. Jim Thomson, supervisor of the crimes against children unit.

"Neither the mother nor boyfriend sought medical treatment for Zoey after her condition changed, nor did they advise medical personnel of the possibility of ingestion of prescription medications by Zoey," he said.

Though police do not believe that Ray is Zoey's biological father, he was listed as her parent in the obituary in the Star-Telegram, and he refers to himself as her father on his Facebook page.

He was released from the Mansfield Jail on Friday afternoon after posting $10,000 bail.

He could not be reached for comment.

Pauli, who also uses the last name of Stewart, was released from the Mansfield Jail on Thursday night after posting $10,000 bail.

Reached by telephone Friday afternoon, she handed the phone to her attorney, Mark Scott, who said they did not wish to make a statement at this time.

The incident occurred at an apartment in the 6200 block of Station Way Drive in north Fort Worth, where Pauli, Ray and their daughter were visiting, Thomson said.

Thomson said police were called to the apartment about 3 a.m. on a report of an unresponsive child.

Pauli told police that Zoey woke earlier in the night so she placed the infant with her and went back to sleep. Pauli said she woke about 3 a.m. and discovered that Zoey was not breathing.

Zoey was taken by ambulance to Cook Children's Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead at 4:38 a.m.

The Tarrant County medical examiner's office preliminarily ruled the baby's death "sudden unexpected infant death with co-sleeping" pending histology and toxicology results. But in March, after completion of those tests, the medical examiner changed the cause of death to acute oxycodone intoxication. The manner of death was ruled a homicide.

While it is unknown how many pills Zoey ingested, Thomson said the medical examiner's office indicated to police that the amount found in her blood would have been lethal even for an adult.

Thomson said that based on the new ruling, Detective S. Murray reinterviewed witnesses and followed up on leads that took him to several surrounding counties. Through his investigation, Murray learned that Pauli had stolen some prescription drugs from a relative and given them to Ray for him to sell.

"Witnesses related the medications had been spilled on the apartment floor where Zoey had been playing," Thomson said.

The witnesses told police that Pauli and Ray apparently believed they had picked up all the medications.

On the day of her daughter's death, Pauli posted on her Facebook page that it was the worst day of her life.

"To my baby girl: I love you with all my heart I wish I could have done something to keep u here but it was beyond my control but you are in a better place," Pauli wrote.

The following day, Ray posted on his page: "I will never forget every moment I spent with her she was the greatest thing in my life and I am proud to have been her father. U will always be in my heart baby love daddy"

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

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