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Courtney Tressler, Indiana Mom, Charged With Starving Disabled 4-Year-Old Son To Death

08/20/10 03:27 PM ET   AP

Courtney Tressler

GREENSBURG, Ind. — A southeastern Indiana woman faces child neglect and reckless homicide charges alleging she starved to death her 4-year-old son, who weighed 12 pounds when police found his emaciated body in a crib.

Courtney G. Tressler, 25, of Greensburg was arrested Wednesday, more than three months after her severely disabled son died from malnutrition and dehydration. She was released from jail in the city about 40 miles southeast of Indianapolis after posting $15,000 bond.

Tressler called police May 17 to say she had found her son, Payton Wesley Ettinger, dead four hours after feeding him and putting him in his crib for a nap, authorities said. A pathologist's report found the boy had virtually no food in his stomach or intestines when he died.

The pathologist found that the boy suffered from "profound malnutrition," had no body fat and that the "skin on his face was drawn tightly against his skull and face bones with obvious emaciation," according to a probable charge affidavit against Tressler.

Investigators said the boy had not seen a doctor since Nov. 3, 2006, when he weighed 16 pounds, 5 ounces as a 1-year-old, according to the affidavit.

Tressler told officers she had intended to take her son to a doctor May 15 after noticing he had lost weight but had delayed the trip for financial reasons. But investigators said in the affidavit that she visited a doctor twice on May 19 for her own medical reasons.

Police said Tressler also claimed she had twice applied for Medicaid assistance for her son, but investigators found that was not the case, according to the document.

Payton Ettinger was unable to speak, walk or control most of his physical movements due to brain damage suffered during abuse by his father, police said. The boy's father, Martin Ettinger, is serving a 5-year prison sentence in Michigan after pleading guilty to battering his son so badly the child was confined to a crib and required constant care.

Tressler moved from Michigan to Indiana in January 2007 after she married Greg Tressler, who told Indianapolis television station WTHR that his wife is innocent and now traumatized by accusations she's responsible for her son's death.

"Is this just a misunderstanding? Is this just someone got the wrong idea or something like that? I think it's a small town and someone's trying to make a name for themselves," he said.

Greg Tressler said his wife does not yet have an attorney.

Decatur County Prosecutor Bill Smith told the Greensburg Daily News he could not comment about why Greg Tressler has not been charged in the boy's death, noting he was not the child's legal guardian and the law is "complicated."

Smith declined a Friday request for comment from The Associated Press.

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Filed by Jen Sabella  |