CORRECTION: This article was corrected April 27. It originally misidentified the man guilty of the crime. We sincerely regret the error.
Last winter, Barrow was shaken by news that a child froze to death after being left in a bedroom overnight with a window open to minus-30 temperatures. Her caregiver, the boyfriend of her mother, had been drinking and fell asleep, leaving the 3-year-old girl and her infant sister exposed to the elements. The infant survived, but the older girl did not, despite valiant efforts by rescuers, who performed CPR for three hours and got her breathing again. She died two days later. After the incident, some members of the community called for increased attention to domestic violence and abusive situations, which many say are all too common, especially those involving children.
Purple ribbons were put up around town to serve as a reminder. The community grieved. This week, that grief was reignited when the courts sentenced Richard Tilden Jr. to seven years in prison after he plead guilty April 11 to criminally negligent homicide and third-degree assault.
Stephanie Lozano was one of several women who held up signs calling for “justice for Miley.” She told the Anchorage Daily News that she felt the sentence was too light. Lozano pointed out that she knew people who have caught a walrus or polar bear off season and gotten more time than Tilden did, the paper reported.
The incident occurred on Feb. 2, 2012, when police received a call that a child was not breathing. Medics and North Slope Borough police who responded reportedly found both girls naked and the 3-year-old blue and without a pulse. The girls were transported to the Barrow hospital, where police and health care workers worked together for three to raise the child’s body temperature while performing CPR until her heart would beat on its own. The children were medevaced to Anchorage, where the older child passed away two days later.
A preliminary investigation of the situation back at the apartment concluded that the girls had been victims of extreme hypothermia, the affidavit stated. A bedroom window inside the girls’ bedroom was open to the outside and the temperature was 30-below zero. Police reported that the latch was missing from the inside of the room, preventing the children from getting out, and that there was no bedding. Edwards-Gust told police that when she had left for work in the morning, the children were sleeping and clothed, the affidavit said.
Tilden allegedly told police that he had opened the window to air out the room because the girls regularly wet their bed. When he woke up at 12:30 p.m., he found that one of the girls had defecated in bed and that both had urinated on themselves, the affidavit said. While trying to clean up the mess, Tilden told police that he realized the 3-year-old was not breathing and called 911.
Police reported that Tilden smelled of booze and two bottles of whiskey were in the apartment. He told police he had bought the alcohol from a bootlegger the night before and started drinking before going to bed. The following day, after spending all day with police, the report stated that his blood-alcohol limit was .164, which is twice the limit for driving legally.
Charging documents noted that the 1-year-old had bruises and crusted blood around her lips and mouth, and that police found clothing in the house with dried blood on it.
Tilden, who is originally from the Bristol Bay region, has a long list of prior charges and convictions for alcohol-related crimes, including domestic assault against his late wife. The child’s mother, Esther Edwards-Gust, has also been charged in the case and awaits trial this summer. Tilden could have served up to 15 years in prison -- 10 for criminally negligent homicide and five for third-degree assault charges pertaining to the younger girl who survived.
The state Superior Court sentence called for Tilden to serve 14 years with seven suspended. He will be on probation for 10 years, must not babysit children under 11 or make contact with the surviving child.
This story first appeared in The Arctic Sounder.