Bond set for man accused of murdering toddler
JACKSON COUNTY, Ill. — Family members wonder if they could have done anything differently to prevent a toddler's death.
The suspect charged with his murder, 24-year-old Jerrod Rudder, stood before a judge for the first time Tuesday afternoon.
Prosecutors say Rudder grabbed 2-year-old Michael Pulliam by the arm Friday night and threw him, causing him to hit a lamp and a wall with his head.
It happened at a home in Elkville, Illinois.
Rudder is the boyfriend of Pulliam's mother, Amanda Howell.
The toddler suffered numerous broken bones, bruises and bleeding on the brain. He died Sunday at a St. Louis hospital.
A Jackson County judge set bond for Rudder today at $1 million.
"It's hurting very, very bad," said Betty Clerk, Pulliam's step-great grandmother.
Clerk said little Michael Pulliam was like her own.
"He would always call me granny and if anything had happened, he'd come down here to me," said Clerk.
The toddler's toys litter Clerk's house. They sit near the porch where he played with his brother.
"All of his memories are here in this house with me," said Clerk.
She said she and other family members knew something wasn't right. They claim they'd called child services before on Michael's mother, Amanda Howell.
"He shouldn't have gotten his life cut short and his mother's having a hard time dealing with it," said Stephanie Patrick, Howell's sister. "There's nothing we can do at the end of the day but hope for justice."
Patrick said her sister Amanda provided for her children. She said Amanda is dealing with more pain than anyone else.
"The mother in the end's the one that's got to live with this," Patrick said.
But with such a young life lost, everyone connected to the child is broken.
"Everybody's going to ask for the rest of their lives, 'What I could have done to help, to fix it?'" said Ashley Clerk, Pulliam's step-great aunt.
Rudder was appointed a public defender in court because he said he did not have sufficient income for an attorney. But he told the court he won a settlement a number of years ago in a car accident.
The judge said if it's determined he can afford an attorney, he will not be able to use the public defender's services.
Rudder will be back in court May 17.
A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services said an active investigation is under way into both the child's mother and Rudder.
The department conducted three previous investigations into Amanda Howell but only one was substantiated.
Family members said Howell's other two children have been removed from her custody.
They are planning a candlelight vigil for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday night at Hurst Park in Hurst, Illinois.