Parents arrested in death of malnourished infant

Authorities are calling the death of 3-month-old Joseph Lutz, who died in January of severe malnutrition and dehydration, one of the worst child neglect cases they’ve ever seen.

“That baby was in horrible condition. Its three months must have been hell on Earth,” Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton said during a news conference Monday to announce the arrests of Joseph’s parents.

The prosecutor added: “I’ve done hundreds of homicides over my 20-year career and I had to cradle under my wife in the fetal position that night when I went home — and I’m still disturbed by it. It’s hard to describe. It appeals to the worst part of your mindset.”

Sheriff Bud Torres said the infant’s emaciated body was discovered by sheriff’s deputies who, on the night of Jan. 28, were responding to a 911 call about an unresponsive infant in a home at 12858 Patin Dyke Road, Ventress.

Joseph Lutz, who was born Oct. 14, was pronounced dead at the scene.

“We found the baby in a back room of the house; the temperature appeared that it had just been warmed when we got there,” Clayton said.

The child’s parents, Jason M. Lutz, 32, and Ashley R. Cogar, 30, were arrested around 9:20 a.m. Monday after the Sheriff’s Office received results from the autopsy report, which revealed the infant died from severe starvation and dehydration.

Clayton said there were three other children, ages 2, 4 and 5, also at the house.

All three children have been in the protective custody of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services since Jan. 28.

In a emailed statement Monday, Grace Weber, a spokeswoman with the agency, said the department had no involvement with the family before Jan. 28.

“After assessing the safety and risk of harm to the surviving children, DCFS took action to place these children into state care,” Weber said in the email. “For their safety, we cannot disclose the current placement or location of the children.”

The sheriff told reporters Monday the three children are now under the care of their grandmother, who is living with them at the house on Patin Dyke Road.

The grandmother would not answer the door Monday even though it appeared she was home.

Authorities did not offer many details about the living conditions at the house. Clayton would only say there was some evidence of drug use.

A neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said she suspected something strange was going on at the house ever since the couple moved into the neighborhood nearly three years ago.

The night police converged on the home and found the dead infant, the neighbor said, she thought authorities were there for a drug bust.

“They had people coming and going all day and night in that house,” she said. “And it looked like those children were not being taken care of like they should. They weren’t dressed well. A lot of times they’d come outside with no shoes. It’s a sin and a shame that a child had to die for this to come to a head.”

On the day the infant’s body was discovered, he weighed less than what he did when he was born, according to Ty Chaney, chief investigator for the Pointe Coupee Parish Coroner’s Office.

Chaney said Monday he could not release any other details about the autopsy report because the investigation is still ongoing.

Lutz and Cogar were booked into the Parish Jail on one count each of second-degree murder.

Clayton said the District Attorney’s Office intends to present the case to a grand jury on Friday for possible indictment.