CINNAMINSON — A Shamong man was charged with murder in the death of his girlfriend’s 1-year-old foster child, but his attorney maintains that the death was accidental and not the result of abuse.
Steven Donaldson, 29, of Wesickaman Drive, is accused of killing the child, identified as Claudia Nunes, on Feb. 12 while baby-sitting at his girlfriend’s Cinnaminson home, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office said Wednesday.
The girlfriend’s identity was not released, and information about how long the child had been placed in her custody was not immediately available.
Donaldson was sitting for the child while his girlfriend was at work and called 911 just before 8 p.m. to report the girl was not breathing, said Joel Bewley, spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office. Police and emergency medical technicians responded to the house but were unable to revive the girl, who was taken to Kennedy University Hospital in Cherry Hill.
She was pronounced dead at the hospital later that night, Bewley said.
An autopsy performed by the Burlington County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the child died from blunt force trauma to the head.
Further investigation by detectives from the Cinnaminson Police Department and the Prosecutor’s Office led to the murder charge being filed against Donaldson.
Bewley declined to release further specifics about the girl’s injuries because of the ongoing investigation, but he said that there were no other adults in the house with Donaldson, and that he was the “sole caregiver during the time that Claudia sustained the fatal injuries.”
The girl died the day after her first birthday, Bewley said.
Donaldson surrendered to authorities Tuesday, was processed, and was released after posting $250,000 bail, authorities said.
Donaldson’s attorney, Craig Mitnick, said the child was not murdered, but accidentally fell on the hardwood floor of the residence and tragically died from her head injury.
“The matter will be tried in a court of law, and Steven will be fully exonerated,” Mitnick said in a statement.
He said that Donaldson was baby-sitting the girl and her two cousins when the accident occurred, and that his client attempted to resuscitate the child by following instructions from a Burlington County Central Communications dispatcher.
Mitnick also said his client voluntarily gave a detailed account of the accident to law enforcement and was not charged until the medical examiner’s written findings confirmed that the child died from head injuries.
“There were no findings of any other injuries to the child, nor was there any evidence that would indicate that there was any previous pattern of abusive behavior to the child,” Mitnick said.