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Couple Charged in Son’s Death : Courts: The parents of a baby killed by a pet rat could get four-year sentences if convicted. County agency is seeking temporary custody of couple’s daughter.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The parents of a 4-month-old boy, bitten to death by a starving rat while the family slept in their station wagon, were charged Monday with involuntary manslaughter.

Steven J. Giguere Sr. and Kathyleen E. Giguere, a homeless, unemployed couple, face a maximum of four years in prison if convicted. They had called police Thursday when they discovered the body of their baby, who had bled to death from bites from the family’s pet rat.

In a separate development Monday, county officials said they would seek temporary custody of the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Karissa, who is being held at the Orangewood Children’s Home in Orange. A custody hearing was set for today.

Authorities with the Orange County Child Services agency said they had received five complaints of child endangerment during the past three years against the Gigueres, including one complaint 48 hours before Steven J. Giguere Jr. died.

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The last complaint had been made by the boy’s grandparents, Dennis and Dianne Giguere, who said Monday they had felt the couple’s two children were in danger because the parents abused drugs and alcohol and lived in a filthy car. County workers, however, did not know where to find the couple and could not investigate the grandparents’ complaint.

Court records also show that Steven Giguere, 27, had been convicted of drunk driving and possession of marijuana. His driver’s license had been suspended.

Dennis Giguere said his son was on welfare and had not held a job in months. He said he spoke to the couple during the weekend and they were “obviously very disturbed. They’re scared and don’t know what’s happening. They’re very remorseful.”

Both grandparents said they wished the county had intervened.

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“The social services didn’t do anything,” Dennis Giguere complained.

Eugene Howard, the director of the Child Services agency, said his department acted appropriately and did everything it could within the law to protect the Gigueres’ child.

“The laws have become much more restrictive,” Howard said. “There are situations that in the past where you could remove the child, but now you can’t anymore. . . . Sometimes you wish you could take more aggressive action, but we can’t.”

He said previous investigations into complaints filed against the couple found no evidence of physical abuse. And, despite the couple’s poverty, county workers were unable to find sufficient evidence that the children were not being properly fed, sheltered, clothed or cared for medically.

But Dr. Richard Evans, the chief of veterinary services for the County Health Care Agency, said the family’s rat had been malnourished for weeks. Evans, who performed a necropsy on the animal named Homer, said it “was devoid of fat and 30% of its muscle mass was wasted away.”

The rat did what it had to to survive, “no matter how grotesque it might appear to us,” Evans said. “It was starved.”

According to county coroner’s officials, the rat bit the boy 110 times on the left arm, striking an artery. The parents told police they had been sleeping in the car and did not hear the boy cry, if he did. In fact, the couple initially thought the infant had died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, police said.

The Gigueres originally were arrested on suspicion of felony child endangerment, but prosecutors said the manslaughter charge was more appropriate because of the baby’s death.

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Deputy Dist. Atty. Jim Tanizaki said although manslaughter seems to be a more serious charge, the maximum punishment is four years, contrasted with six years for child endangerment. The length of the sentence, however, was not a primary factor in the district attorney’s decision, he said.

“When comparing the two we were not looking at it as one being more aggravated then the other; we looked at which is the most appropriate charge,” Tanizaki said. “Child endangerment can occur without a death. The death made it manslaughter.”

Their arraignment was set for Sept. 7. They are being held at County Jail on $100,000 bail.

At the Gigueres’ court appearance, Jody Baker, a former neighbor who befriended the couple, told reporters that their apartment had been “filthy beyond belief” and their children frequently were dirty.

Baker also said that even when there was no juice or milk for the children, there was always an ice chest full of beer. She added that the parents would sometimes rely on churches and other charities to feed their children.

She said they were evicted from that Anaheim apartment. Court records also indicate the couple was evicted from a Tustin apartment in July, 1992.

Since their last eviction, Baker said, the couple have lived in their car or rented cheap motel rooms for a night at a time.

“I’m real angry at them. I came here to look them in the eye,” Baker said.

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Nonetheless, Baker was helping the Giguere grandparents set up a trust fund for the child’s burial and to care for Karissa. Donations to the fund should be sent to Home Savings of America in care of Steven James Giguere Jr., 15128 E. Rosecrans Ave., La Mirada, 90638.

Times correspondent Geoff Boucher and staff writer T. Christian Miller contributed to this report.


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