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U.S. Authorities Will Not File Charges In Death Of Russian Adoptee


Max Shatto in a photo taken shortly before his death
Authorities in Texas say they will not file charges against the adoptive parents of Max Shatto, the Russian-born boy whose death in uncertain circumstances earlier this year set off an international drama.

Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland told RFE/RL that "the criminal case is closed."

"There's no wrongdoing found on the part of anyone in relation to the death of Max Shatto. We presented [the case] fully to the grand jury and let them make their own determination. They did, based on the evidence, that there was no crime," Bland said.

"I've reviewed all the facts that we had available [from] all the agencies involved to determine whether criminal actions should be taken. Everybody felt that criminal action was not appropriate in this case."

Official Russian Anger

The Russian children’s rights commissioner, Pavel Astakhov, has sharply criticized the Texas decision.

Astakhov said via Twitter on March 19 that "The position of the Texas prosecutor contradicts initial information presented by the sheriff, social services, [the] statement of the adoptive father, [and] doctors' conclusions."

Astakhov wrote that he wants to discuss the case further with U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul.

Three-year-old Max Shatto, born Maksim Kuzmin, died on January 21 at a hospital in Odessa, Texas, with bruising over much of his body. Local officials said an ambulance had been called to the Shatto home earlier that day after the child allegedly collapsed while unattended outside near playground equipment.

In February, Russian officials accused the boy's adoptive mother, Laura Shatto, of "murder."

The officials cited the case as justification for the country's politically charged ban on adoptions by U.S. citizens that went into effect on January 1.

The U.S. State Department urged calm as an investigation proceeded. McFaul characterized the Russian reaction as "sensational exploitations of human tragedy."

On March 1, Texas authorities ruled that the boy had died accidentally from a "lacerated artery" caused by self-inflicted wounds.

Behavioral Disorder

Bland told RFE/RL that the child suffered from a behavioral disorder that had caused him to harm himself.

That ruling was immediately questioned by Russian officials and some activists. Several thousand people took to the streets in Moscow on March 2 to protest over the case and to call for a ban on all foreign adoptions.

RUSSIANS ERUPT in march to ban all foreign adoptions

"It would not have taken too much force to cause the child's wounds," Bland told AP on March 18. He said they could have been caused from contact with playground equipment.

The district attorney also said the boy was underweight, which could have made him more vulnerable to injury.

Laura Shatto and her husband, Alan, have refused to comment to the press on the case. They did not immediately answer calls from RFE/RL after the Texas jury's decision.

Their lawyer, Michael J. Brown, has argued that his clients are not guilty of any wrongdoing.

"We're, of course, very happy about [the jury's decision], but we're certainly not surprised," he told RFE/RL. "I never thought there was any criminal liability for Laura Shatto. The grand jury has seen all the evidence they could possibly look at and they agreed with me."

More Investigation

Texas Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins told AP that the agency was continuing to investigate allegations that Max Shatto was physically abused. He said he did not know when that investigation would be complete.

THE TEXAS TOWN at the heart of the Max Shatto tragedy

Bland and Brown told RFE/RL that Child Protective Services also continued to oversee the supervision of Max's 2-year-old half-brother, Kristopher, who was also adopted by the Shatto family.

Russian officials have called for Kristopher Shatto to be returned to his country of birth.

A spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in Washington told RFE/RL that it had not yet received official notification of the Texas jury's decision and could not immediately comment.