A Plaquemines Parish grand juryWednesday (March 26) indicted a Belle Chassewoman on charges of killing her sickly toddler by injecting hand sanitizer into his feeding tube.
The grand jury also charged Erika Wigstrom with attempting to kill the child more than 14 months ago, on the same day authorities say the child's father gave him rum.
Just two weeks after she was jailed, Wigstrom, 20, was formally charged with first-degree murder, in the Jan. 24 death of 17-month-oldLucas Ruiz. She also was charged with attempted first-degree murder, accused of giving Lucas an alcohol-based perfume on Oct. 26, 2012.
Although charged with a capital offense, Wigstrom will not face a potential death sentence. "The state will not seek the death penalty," Plaquemines Parish District Attorney Charles Ballay said just moments after filing the indictment in a Belle Chasse courtroom at midday Wednesday.
If convicted as charged, or even if a jury finds her guilty of second-degree murder, Wigstrom would face a mandatory life sentence in prison with no chance of probation, parole or suspended sentence. The attempted murder charge carries a sentence of up to 50 years in prison. Her arraignment on the new charges is May 5.
Wigstrom was not in court when the indictment was handed up. However, on Monday she appeared before Judge Kevin Conner of the 25th Judicial District Court, who set a $750,000 bond. Following her arrest, she was denied a bond. She remained jailed as of Wednesday, Cmdr. Eric Becnel of the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Officesaid.
Monday's bond hearing was sought by Wigstrom's attorneys with the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center in New Orleans, court records show. Richard Bourke, who heads that law office, which defends people facing the death penalty, could not be reached immediately for comment. Because the death penalty is off the table, the office likely will not represent Wigstrom.
In a court filing, the defense attorneys said Wigstrom was indigent and entitled to a bond. "Because Ms. Wigstrom does not present an imminent danger to the community and she is not a flight risk, the court must set bail," the attorneys wrote. "And this bail must be set at an amount that Ms. Wigstrom can reasonably post."
A preliminary examination, which is a hearing before a judge at which detectives testify about the evidence, had been set for Thursday. Asked about the relatively quick turn-around between Wigstrom's arrest and the indictment, a span of two weeks, Ballay said his office "was ready" to go to the grand jury.
Ballay also cited the preliminary examination that was set for Thursday. "This will negate that, since now we have an indictment," he said.
Lucas Ruiz was born with Down syndrome and atrioventricular canal defect, a condition that left him with holes in his heart, requiring corrective surgery and a feeding tube. In explaining why she poisoned her child by injecting the hand sanitizer into the tube, Wigstrom described it as an act of mercy, to put her child out of his misery, detectives have said.
She said that on Jan. 23 at her Xi Street home in Belle Chasse, she injected Germ-X hand sanitizer into her son's feeding tube, detectives said. The substance contains ethyl alcohol. Lucas died the following day from alcohol poisoning.
Toxicology tests done during the autopsy revealed that his blood-alcohol content was 0.280 percent. Detectives received the report earlier this month and called Wigstrom in for questioning on March 11. That led to the confession, detectives have said.
The indictment adds a criminal wrinkle to the case. Lucas' father, Cesar Ruiz, 20, is charged in Jefferson Parish's 24th Judicial District with second-degree cruelty to a juvenile. Prosecutors accuse him of giving Lucas rum through his feeding tube during a hospital stay on Oct. 26, 2012, when the child was 2 months old.
In October 2012, Lucas was awaiting heart surgery at Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson. But after he had seizures, doctors performed tests that revealed his blood-alcohol content was 0.289 percent, almost four times higher than the legal limit for adults to drive in Louisiana.
During the investigation that followed, Cesar Ruiz gave Jefferson Parish detectives a statement in which they say he implicated himself in the alcohol poisoning. Deputies booked him with attempted first-degree murder, but prosecutors charged him with the cruelty charge.
At the time, Wigstrom told Jefferson Parish detectives that Ruiz had said he hoped that their son would die during the surgery, according to an arrest report. Then, on Facebook last year, Wigstrom said she wasn't aware at the time that Ruiz had poisoned their son.
Yet earlier this month, Wigstrom confessed she poisoned her child on Oct. 26, 2012, leading to her indictment Wednesday on the attempted murder charge. She also appeared to seek to absolve Ruiz of wrongdoing.
Prosecutors in Jefferson Parish, however, have given no indication that they will abandon the case against Ruiz, apparently in light of his statement to detectives and the possibility that both parents harmed the child.
After 14 months of incarceration while awaiting his trial, Ruiz was released from the Jefferson Parish jail on March 20, a day after Jefferson Parish Judge June Berry Darensburg reduced his bond from $100,000 to $10,000, records show.
Wigstrom's confession played a role in Darensburg's decision to reduce Ruiz's bail substantially. She ordered that Ruiz be under house arrest, allowing him to leave home only for school, religious services and work.
His attorney Michael Ciaccio, said in court last week that Ruiz needed to earn money to help pay his legal costs, including to hire an expert in pediatrics that could help the defense.