An Indiana grand jury has concluded a former Aberdeen woman was not responsible for the deaths of her two children and did not commit suicide. The prosecutor indicated their deaths may have been a tragic accident resulting from hypothermia.
Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson announced the grand jury’s findings Thursday at a press conference. After five days of review, he said the grand jury found Jaime Clutter, 35, was not criminally responsible for the death of her son, Brandon, 10, or her daughter, Katelyn, 6 months. They also cleared her husband, Mike Clutter, 47, of any wrongdoing.
“The grand jury has spoken through the findings that they do not believe Jaime Clutter killed her two children, nor do they believe she drowned her two children. And finally, they don’t believe Jaime Clutter committed suicide,” Henderson said.
Clutter and her children were discovered March 13 in a shallow creek in New Albany, Ind., naked, with their clothing strewn nearby and a baby harness with a Bible in it hanging from a nearby tree. They had moved from South Aberdeen to New Albany in January after Mike Clutter found work in the area. Initially, there was some speculation Jaime Clutter may have killed her children and herself.
“We felt all along that she didn’t purposely do anything crazy like that,” said Bill Pink of Aberdeen, Jaime Clutter’s father. “But you know, you’ve got to live with what they put out there, and that was their first statement. It’s a sad thing all the way around, no matter what, we don’t get them back in this life.”
In Indiana, grand juries may be convened at the request of a prosecutor but the specific evidence and testimony they consider may not be disclosed.
Henderson did reference one expert report concluding postpartum depression was a factor in the case.
Henderson said he asked the grand jury to consider whether Jaime Clutter had “any involvement, any criminal culpability” in the deaths of her children, and if Mike Clutter was involved with their deaths or hers.
They were specifically asked to consider possible charges of murder, reckless homicide, negligent care of dependants, causing suicide and assisting suicide, “Everything that I could think of as a prosecutor that possibly could be involved in this set of circumstances,” Henderson said.
The grand jury returned a finding of “no bill,” or no call for charges, on all possible counts for both Mike and Jaime Clutter.
Although Jaime Clutter could not be prosecuted, Henderson said, posthumous charges could have been filed and dismissed.
“I wish Indiana law allowed the grand jury to speak publicly about their findings. Because my purpose in giving this case to the grand jury, at least in large part, was to allow them to examine not only all the documents and findings from people who’ve worked on this case, but to hear live testimony and ask questions of these individuals in order to gain a better understanding so we can answer for the community, and most importantly for the surviving members of the Clutter family, what happened, or did either one of those two individuals have anything to do with this,” he said.
Police interviewed Mike Clutter but never named him as a suspect. He went to work early the morning his wife and children died and called police when he came home to find them missing.
A neighbor encountered the three on their way to the nearby park where they were later found, and told police Jaime Clutter “appeared to be disturbed about something,” Henderson said, but wasn’t sure what.
“That was the last person to see her alive,” he said.
It was about 30 degrees outside that day, but Jaime Clutter left the family’s apartment “quickly, abruptly, without proper coats, without her eyeglasses, which we believe she wore when she would leave the apartment,” Henderson said. “But again most importantly, based on the conditions … neither she nor the children were properly dressed.”
Autopsies showed drowning as the cause of death for all three, although the manner of death was undetermined, and Jaime Clutter’s toxicology tests came back negative.
The man who first saw the bodies at the park told emergency dispatchers Jaime Clutter looked like she had been “beat up and cut,” according to 911 tapes, but Henderson said those marks were consistent with damage from rocks and debris in a stream and no evidence was ever found to indicate a third party had been involved.
Police hired Diana Lynn Barnes from the Center for Postpartum Health in Sherman Oaks, Calif., who “came to the conclusion in her report that postpartum depression was involved,” Henderson said.
They also consulted Dr. Daniel Danzl of University of Louisville Medical School, an expert on hypothermia.
“Based upon those reviews, we believe that hypothermia played the major role in the actions of Jaime Clutter on that morning with the extreme cold temperature as well as the wind chill. There is a belief and some evidence to support that a person that’s subjected to extreme hypothermia will become confused, disoriented and at times disrobe,” Henderson said.
The phenomenon is known as paradoxical undressing, where, shortly before death, the affected person feels too hot. It could explain the condition of the bodies when they were found.
“At the end of this, it is a bizarre set of circumstances,” Henderson said. “It’s difficult, I know, for family and friends as well as the community to comprehend, as it is for us as we review this. That’s why I felt, one of the reasons I felt compelled, to empanel a grand jury to examine all the facts of this. Something this tragic, something this monumental, of losing two children and a mother, had to be looked at thoroughly.”
Pink said Jaime Clutter’s family is doing the best they can to move on from their loss. He’s been told the case isn’t likely to be re-opened unless significant new evidence is found.
“Mike has to deal with the greatest loss, because you don’t get over something like this in a short time,” he said. “But we do miss them, and it’s been a very tough ordeal for us. They hold a very special place in our hearts and we have lots of memories and lots of pictures of good times, and that’s all we have right now to hold on to.”