Kaliq Holley, 9 months old, was resting on his great-aunt's bed in West Baltimore one afternoon this summer when he apparently grabbed a gelatin capsule of heroin resting on a nearby table and swallowed it.
By the next morning he was dead -- one of the year's most unusual overdose deaths. On Friday, the great-aunt and her boyfriend were indicted by a Baltimore grand jury on second-degree murder charges.
Police and public health officials said the death could have been prevented, adding to the tragedy.
"They knew" the child had swallowed the heroin, said Detective Donald Kramer of the Baltimore homicide unit. "They didn't get any medical attention. They just thought everything would be OK."
Kaliq's death devastated his father, Anthony Holley. His mother, Tiffany Morton, said in a brief interview that she was still in shock.
"I loved my son," said Holley, 36. "It hurts a lot. I'm suppressing a beast of anger that wants to get out."
Holley said he dropped Kaliq off at his wife's family's home on North Calhoun Street on June 22 as he went to work. There, Kaliq got passed around among relatives, Holley said, finally ending up in the care of his great-aunt and her boyfriend.
The boyfriend bought two gelatin capsules of heroin that day, Kramer said. The boyfriend and the baby's great-aunt split one capsule and left the other on a table near their bed, he said.
Kaliq was sleeping on the great-aunt's bed and the couple left the room, Kramer said. When they returned, the detective said, the heroin was gone and the boy was awake.
"They didn't tell anyone what they believed had happened," Kramer said.
About midnight, Holley picked up Kaliq, who seemed tired and sleepy. That was unusual for the baby because he was teething, Holley said.
Holley took the boy home and put him on his bed, falling to sleep with his arm draped over the child.
About 6:30 a.m., Holley woke up and noticed that Kaliq wasn't breathing. The baby was taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 7:17 a.m., Kramer said.
At first, Holley and Kramer thought the baby might have died from sudden infant death syndrome. But on July 17, the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide by heroin overdose, police said. Kramer said he began questioning witnesses, including the great-aunt and her boyfriend, who implicated themselves in the death.
The great-aunt and her boyfriend "were very remorseful," the detective said. "They were extremely upset."
Joyce C. Miller, 39, and Rudolph Asberry, 41, of the 1700 block of N. Calhoun St. were charged July 19. In addition to second-degree murder, they were indicted on charges of child abuse and heroin possession.
The public defender's office did not return calls seeking comment on the case.
Holley says he does not care about the remorse felt by the great-aunt and her boyfriend. He cannot get over the rage he feels about the loss of his son. Kaliq was his chance at redemption, an opportunity to raise a son who would stay in school and avoid the mistakes he made as a teen-ager and young man, Holley says.
Holley is on supervised release after serving six years in federal prison on a 1991 drug conviction. He earned his high school equivalency degree in prison and has a steady job as a machinist.
"My main purpose in life was my son," Holley said. "I had plans for my son. He was very special. I asked God for my son, and I was always there for him."
Kaliq appears to be the youngest overdose death this year. Officials said 181 people have died in Baltimore from illicit drug overdoses. Last year, 317 people died -- 55 more than were murdered.
Medical experts said Kaliq had a chance to survive if the adults had immediately called for help. "There are antidotes," said Dr. Richard Lichenstein, head of the pediatric emergency department at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
But, Lichenstein said: "The baby couldn't have survived without medical attention. One heroin [dose] for a little baby is probably a fatal amount."
Legal experts said a second-degree murder charge is probably appropriate in this case because the aunt and her boyfriend allegedly knew their actions could result in the death of the child.
"Any reasonable adult would know that a child will reach and grab," said Byron L. Warnken, a law professor at the University of Baltimore.
Not seeking help after learning the baby had probably swallowed heroin would escalate the offense, experts said. "If you do nothing, that intensifies the degree of guilt," said Abraham Dash, a law professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.
Second-degree murder carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail, while manslaughter carries a 10-year sentence.
Miller is being held at the city detention center in lieu of $200,000 bail, officials said yesterday. Asberry is being held at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup.
Sun news researcher Sarah Gehring contributed to this article.