PLYMOUTH, Ind. — The death of an 11-month-old northern Indiana girl found last week in Starke County has been ruled a homicide. Marshall County Prosecutor Nelson Chipman said Monday that Mercedes Lain of Plymouth died from blunt force injuries to the head. The baby’s autopsy was conducted Friday in Fort Wayne.
Police say the girl was found dead in a remote, wooded area in Starke County. The man who had been watching Mercedes, 37-year-old Justin Lee Miller, is being charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in death. He could face 20 to 40 years in prison if convicted.
Miller was located the morning of Aug. 16. After being questioned multiple times, police said he helped lead them to Mercedes' body Aug. 18.
Mercedes' mother and father, Tiffany Coburn and Kenneth Lain, are also being held on a charge of neglect of a dependent for the circumstances of letting Miller watch their baby.
In court document, Kenneth Lain and Tiffany Coburn said they left their daughter Mercedes with a family relative, Justin Miller, on Aug. 13. The parents had claimed they left the baby with Miller for a few days so they could have a break.
They called police Aug. 15 to report Mercedes missing. According to court documents, they told police Miller said he left Mercedes with a neighbor since Lain and Coburn were not home.
When officers tried to follow up with Lain and Coburn about the timeline of events involving Mercedes, they said they were unable to make contact until Aug. 16 at 8:30 a.m. Police said that Coburn said she was coming in to talk to them, and was waiting on a ride from her sister.
Police said Coburn never showed up and when they talked to her sister, she told them she had not seen Coburn since 3 a.m. when "she dropped them off from looking for the baby."
In court documents, both Coburn and Lain were noted as being "uncooperative in looking for their child."
Coburn was ultimately found outside of the Economy Inn the afternoon of Aug. 16. Lain was located at the Red Rock Inn in Plymouth around 6 p.m. Aug. 16.
According to court documents, Miller gave conflicting information over several days on his whereabouts during the days Mercedes was missing. He had even claimed at one point that he had dropped the baby off with a neighbor.
On Aug. 18, police interviewed Miller again at the Marshall County Jail. In court documents, Miller said that on Aug. 14, he was at a home in Mishawaka and when he woke up, Mercedes was dead.
Investigators said Miller then told them he had disposed of the baby's body at a property in Starke County. Later on Aug. 18, court documents allege Miller led officers to Starke County Road 1025 East and County Road 40 North, where Mercedes' body was found.
Miller has an initial hearing set for Aug. 24. Mercedes' parents have pretrial conferences set for September.
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