DOVER – A 25-year-old Dover Air Force Base airman has been charged with the 2012 death of a 21-month-old boy who was in his care, authorities said Wednesday morning.
Staff Sgt/ Justin K. Corbett was charged Tuesday with murder by abuse or neglect recklessly causing the death of child after investigation into the blunt force trauma homicide of Evan J. Dudley, the Delaware State Police said in charging documents.
Sgt. Corbett was watching the toddler as a primary caregiver during the military deployment of his mother – Staff Sgt. Nicole “Nikki” Dudley - , also an airman assigned to the base, the DSP and sources said.
The incident occurred on Nov. 3, 2012 at 3:52 p.m. in the 1000 block of Avocado Avenue, DAFB Housing, the DSP said.
Through a DAFB spokeswoman Wednesday, Sgt. Dudley declined comment and “was asking for the media to respect her privacy during this tough time,” Lt. Remoshay Nelson said.
On her “Evan’s Heaven” Facebook page, Sgt. Dudley posted a statement early Wednesday afternoon:
“I'm relieved that an arrest has finally been made in the quest for justice for my baby, Evan Dudley. The past 15 months and 11 days have been a non-stop emotional roller coaster for me and my family.
“From the moment the doctor gave his characterization of Evan's injuries at A.I. Dupont Hospital, to receiving word of last night's arrest, I've alternated between grief, anger, depression and anxiety ... I can now add hope to the list, as the arrest gives me the feeling that resolution and justice for Evan are within reach.
“I understand that the justice system must run its course, but I'm confident that Deputy Attorney General Josette Manning and the Delaware Department of Justice will do everything in their power to ensure that justice is served, as they've done since they took over the case. They have been helpful, open and honest throughout this entire ordeal.
“I'd like to thank my immediate and Air Force families, friends, and supporters both known and unknown, for their constant outpouring of support and encouragement throughout this difficult time.
“I ask that you please respect my privacy as the judicial process unfolds. We are one step closer in the quest for Justice for Evan, and I'll keep fighting until justice is served.”
911 call comes in
Police said in court documents that Sgt. Corbett called 911 for an emergency at his residence on Nov. 3, and said the victim was unresponsive. Emergency crews responded, and Evan Dudley was transported via ambulance to Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital.
Sgt. Corbett said the victim had fallen down a set of carpeted stairs at his home and become unresponsive, police said in a news release.
The child victim was first assessed at the Kent General Emergency Room, police said in court documents, and then transferred to Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington for head trauma and multiple contusions on his body.
Several witnesses said in interviews that Evan Dudley appeared healthy and normal through Nov. 2, 2012, the day before he was placed in the care of Sgt. Corbett. When the 911 call was placed the next day, authorities said, Sgt. Corbett was the only adult in the residence.
The child died on Nov. 7, 2012 at A.I. Hospital; an autopsy was conducted by the Delaware Office of the Chief Medical Examiner that day and it was determined that Evan Dudley suffered multiple injuries including retinal and other eye injuries, multiple contusions on his head, and brain swelling and bleeding.
Sgt. Corbett was taken into custody without incident Tuesday at his DAFB residence housing in the first block of Hickory Lane, police said. DSP troopers and agents from the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations went to the home.
After arraignment through JP Court 2 in Rehoboth Beach, Sgt. Corbett was committed to James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna in lieu of $100,000 cash bond. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Friday morning in the Kent County Court of Common Pleas in Dover.
Investigation and review
The DSP said in a news release after its investigation and a review by the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, the case was submitted for review to a child abuse expert and pediatric pathologist due to the discovery of undisclosed unique injuries noted during the autopsy.
“After their lengthy review and evaluation of the complex case, both experts agreed that the child was the victim of a homicide,” Sgt. Paul G. Shavack said in the release.
When asked for comment Wednesday, the Delaware Department of Justice offered the following response via e-mail:
“The charging decision was made after a thorough review of the investigative file and consultation with additional medical experts,” the DOJ said.
Air Force officials said they would continue providing support for the state as the case proceeds.
“We are aware of Staff Sgt. Justin Corbett's arrest in connection to the case concerning the death of Evan Dudley,” Col. Randy Huiss, 436th Airlift wing vice commander said through e-mail.
“The Air Force has maintained a strong partnership with the various state agencies during the investigation. We are hopeful that the end result will be closure for Staff Sgt. Nicole Dudley, and we remain committed to providing any support for the State of Delaware as they move towards resolution.
“We look forward to a timely result.”
Deployed at the time
Sgt. Dudley was deployed in the Middle East at the time of the incident involving her son, and had left her son in the care of Sgt. Corbett’s family, a long-term caregiver under the United States Air Force’s Family Care Plan, she said in a Delaware State News story published on Oct. 19, 2013.
Earlier, the Air Force said Sgt. Corbett had gotten a civilian attorney and received guidance from DAFB’s Area Defense Counsel. Officials said Air Force Judge Advocates are not authorized to represent members at civilian criminal prosecutions.
Sgt. Corbett was working as a control storage journeyman in the 436th Logistics Readiness Squadron and Sgt. Dudley was a unit training manager.
Though the alleged incident took place on base housing, civilian law enforcement has jurisdiction to the location’s “proprietary” status, DAFB officials said.
“Therefore, due to how the land was acquired, the State of Delaware has primary jurisdictions over offenses occurring in the base housing side of Dover AFB,” a base spokeswoman said.
“The military has jurisdiction over its members no matter where the offenses occur, but if civilian authorities are exercising their jurisdiction, then, as a matter of policy, the Air Force does not proceed on its own.
“Our investigators work cooperatively with civilian law enforcement to investigate those offenses.”