Parents charged with murder after 4-month-old son suffocates while in ‘timeout’

A New Jersey couple is accused of smothering their 4-month-old with a comforter by putting the boy in a “timeout” when he would not stop crying, authorities said.

William Herring, 42, and Brianna Brochhausen, 22, of Mahwah, are each charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. According to a news release from the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, Herring and Brochhausen were arrested Monday by troopers with the New Jersey State Police.

Police officers and paramedics were sent on Valentine’s Day to the Hilltop Motel in Springfield Township, where the couple was living at the time, after they called 911 and said their infant son, Hunter, had stopped breathing. He was rushed by ambulance to Virtua Hospital in Mount Holly, where doctors transferred him to the pediatric intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

While in the PICU, Hunter had minimal brain activity and needed a respirator to breathe, the news release said. He died March 3 after doctors removed him from life support.

Photos on Brochhausen's Facebook page show that Hunter was a twin. His sister, Harley, will be 10 months old later this month.

Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said in the news release that the couple became frustrated the night of Feb. 14 when Hunter would not stop crying. They decided he needed a "timeout," the prosecutor said.

"He was positioned on his stomach on the bed, and the comforter was pulled over him, covering his head and entire body," Coffina said. "The parents then went outside to smoke cigarettes, returning to the room approximately 10 minutes later, where they discovered that Hunter was not breathing and was unresponsive."

It was unclear where the surviving twin was at the time that the victim stopped breathing. Hunter’s autopsy found that he died of complications of suffocation, the news release said.

"The thoughtless actions of these individuals ended up costing a defenseless 4-month-old infant his life," Col. Patrick J. Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, said in a statement. "I commend the detectives of our Homicide South Unit and Criminal Investigation Office for their commitment and dedication to finding justice for baby Hunter."

Coffina pointed out the help that is available for new parents who find themselves struggling.

"The responsibilities of becoming a new parent can sometimes be overwhelming," Coffina said. "Those who find themselves at a point of crisis when caring for a newborn child should know that help is available, and they must seek that help rather than taking actions that might harm their child."

Parents Anonymous of New Jersey offers parent support groups, as well as a 24-hour Stressline/Family Helpline. Helpline volunteers listen to the concerns of parents and provide referral and crisis intervention information.

The helpline can be reached at 1-800-THE-KIDS, and additional information about resources can be found on the organization's website.

New Jersey also has a Safe Haven Infant Protection Act, which allows parents or their representatives to anonymously surrender a newborn baby at any hospital emergency room, police station, fire station, ambulance, first aid or rescue squad that is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The law is for parents of babies up to 30 days old.

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