COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A man on his deathbed has admitted that he was responsible for the death of his toddler nearly 40 years ago.
Columbus Police officials say 18-month-old Bradley Cuturia died at the Medical Center in July of 1971 but it was never reported to police. The child had been abused before unbeknownst to police and had been treated several times before at Martin Army Hospital on Fort Benning.
Major Gene Hillhouse, who oversees the department's Major Crimes Unit, says the assault happened at the family's home in the old Mockingbird Trailer Court off of Cusseta Road. The trailer park no longer exists.
Hillhouse tells WTVM the baby was struck at least once in the head, maybe more, and died from his injuries two days after he was admitted to the Medical Center. Police say originally, it was reported that Bradley fell down one step.
In the early part of 2009, the child's mother, Cheryl Cuturia, contacted the Columbus Police Department saying she was concerned her child had been killed by his father, Thomas Cuturia. Hillhouse says the couple had moved to Wisconsin after their son's death and have been separated "for quite some years."
Cold Case detectives investigated the case for a year to determine whether or not her claims held any weight. In late 2010, they tracked 60-year-old Thomas Cuturia down to a VA Hospital in Minnesota where he was dying of cancer and went to interview him. Hillhouse says there, the dying man confessed to being behind the deadly blow that killed his young son. Police say Cuturia was weak and answered detectives by shaking his head yes or no and giving very short answers. The admittance took less than ten minutes, according to police.
"He was very brief. He mainly just answered questions. He knew that he was dying. I guess he finally decided to clear his conscience. Back when this young child died, we were not notified. We would have been involved then had we been notified but times were different back then. There was a lot doctors didn't know back then that we have since found out. If the mother had not come forward, we would never had known about this,"revealed Sergeant Harvey Hatcher, a cold case detective.
Thomas Cuturia has died since his confession.
Columbus cold case detectives tell WTVM they had gathered enough information on Thomas Cuturia to charge him with murder and if he had lived, he would have been arrested.
Police say he admitted to them that his son's death was no accident, saying he punched Bradley because he wouldn't stop crying.
The detectives say Bradley was born after his father left for Vietnam and when he came home, he was a new, strange face in the house that his son didn't recognize and as a result, the baby cried a lot when he was around his dad.
Cheryl Cuturia, the victim's mother, spoke with WTVM over the phone from her home in Cameron, Wisconsin Tuesday night.
She says now that the case has been cleared with her ex husband's confession, her family has closure and her baby has justice.
On the night her son was assaulted in 1971, she says she worked overtime and when she got home, her neighbor told her Bradley had been rushed to the hospital. When she got there, she found her ex crying, saying the toddler accidentally fell and hit his head hard on a step two inches high. At the time, he was a soldier stationed on Fort Benning and she was only 18.
From the start, Cheryl Cuturia says she knew something wasn't right about the death but her husband told her she was imagining things and that he would never hurt his son. She claims he was abusive and after years of being battered, controlled and manipulated, she divorced him in 1987.
"I always knew in my heart that this was not the way my son died. I just didn't know how to prove it. You don't know what to do. You don't know where to start. You get so many dead ends," she said.
The couple had two more children together after Bradley and when Bradley's brother started asking about how the baby died, she was more determined than ever to find out the truth. Being young and naive, Cheryl says she didn't know where to start or how to prove what happened. She thinks the baby was crying that night and her ex hit him with his fist across the side of his head. When she sought legal advice, she says lawyers told her to move on and focus on her other children.
Finally, she turned to Columbus Police as a last attempt and now she says she has the answers and peace of mind she's been waiting for. She says her story is a message for other abused women to fight for what they know is right.
"Justice has happened for Bradley and he deserves it because he was such a wonderful child. I can never feel relieved but I feel like the good Lord has finally helped me get to this point," she added.
Columbus Police tell WTVM the Cuturia's marriage was a classic case of domestic abuse from that time period.
At any given time, the department's cold case investigators are working 16-18 cases dating from May of 1973-2010.
"We feel like we work for the victims and for their families. The victims can't speak for themselves and we're the only voice that the victim's families might have. We're basically just doing our job. We take great pride in doing our job to the best of our ability. We have a lot of experience and try to read through them and look at them with a fresh set of eyes and see what we can pick out and go forward with," added Sergeant Hatcher.
The Cuturia case is one of several major developments for the cold case squad in recent years.
In 2009, Michael Curry was arrested 24 years after his pregnant wife and two young children were found slain with a bush ax in their home on Rockhurst Drive.
Curry had remarried several times since the killings and had been working in the Dalton, GA school system as a maintenance engineer at the time of his arrest.
Officials say they have new DNA evidence in the case but have not released what it is.
Curry is set to stand trial in April.
In 2010, Kareem Lane was arrested and charged with the 1992 stabbing of then Muscogee County school superintendent Doctor James Burns.
Burns was murdered in his home on Broadway by a masked intruder.
Prosecutors say they have new DNA evidence linking Lane to the murder weapon but they have not revealed a possible motive in the case.
Lane had been living with his wife in Pell City, Alabama northwest of Talladega, working in a plant and coaching soccer.
He was a 17-year-old Shaw high school student at the time of the fatal stabbing.
Both Lane and Curry are being held in the Muscogee County Jail.