Man arrested in child’s death

A 31-year-old Las Vegas man with a history of child abuse allegations and convictions was arrested Tuesday in the 2007 homicide of his son, according to a Las Vegas police report.

Mario Genejerome “Gene” Hill is being held without bail at the Clark County Detention Center on charges of second-degree murder, child abuse with substantial bodily harm and probation violation.

Two other children have been removed from Hill’s custody since 2008, because the Clark County coroner’s office ruled the death of 2-year-old Nithaniel Hill a homicide.

A police report shows Nithaniel’s brief life was punctuated by brutality. In 2005, Hill told police he twice shook Nithaniel, who was about 2 months old. Nithaniel was so severely injured that he was rendered “special needs.” According to the report, Nithaniel had developmental delays and had a head deformity.

Hill pleaded guilty to felony child abuse and was sentenced to four years of probation. Hill told police in that case that he shook his son for “about 10 seconds” because he was frustrated with him.

According to the police report, Hill was able to regain custody of Nithaniel in June 2007. Clark County Child Protective Services Case Manager Scott Sheldon told police in May an informal case plan of anger management counseling and family counseling had been recommended for Hill.

Sheldon said he was aware of Nithaniel’s history. He saw the toddler days before his death and told police Nithaniel had been “doing really great.”

Child Protective Services Supervisor Daryl Glover, who briefly worked the Hill case in 2005, told police he didn’t understand the decision to return Nithaniel to his father.

“Glover stated that he would have advocated for the termination of parental rights, however, the case was transferred to another case worker,” the police report said.

In 2007, five other allegations of child abuse and neglect involving Hill’s household were reported to the Clark County Department of Family Services. Those allegations were unsubstantiated.

On Oct. 22, 2007, the day before Nithaniel died, Hill had taken the boy to have his shunt checked. The shunt had been inserted in Nithaniel’s head to drain fluid from his brain. According to the report, Nithaniel wasn’t cooperating and the testing was rescheduled.

A technician at the Steinberg Diagnostic Medical Imaging Center said Hill was agitated and “high-tempered” during the appointment. A nurse told police she heard what sounded like “a spanking noise on a diaper” when the father and son were left alone.

Hours later at their home, Hill’s wife heard the toddler screaming in his sleep. He was limp when she picked him up, the report said. Nithaniel was taken to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, where he died Oct. 23, 2007.

The report does not say if wife Brandi Hill also was the boy’s mother. She told detectives Nithaniel’s cries were unlike anything she had ever heard.

“I can’t even explain it,” she told police. “I know what he sounds like when he cries, when he gets in trouble, if he wants something or he throws a temper tantrum. It was different.”

Nithaniel was nonresponsive and had a blank stare as they waited for an ambulance, Brandi Hill told police.

Mario Hill told doctors at Sunrise that Nithaniel hit his chin while playing but seemed to be fine. Hill said he believed his son was having a reaction to anesthesia he was given at Steinberg.

According to the police report, doctors involved in Nithaniel’s case believe the toddler’s previous brain injuries may have contributed to his death.

The victim “may not have died if he hadn’t had the previous injury,” said Dr. Bennet Omalu, a clinical and forensic pathologist, neuropathologist and epidemiologist from Lodi, Calif., who examined Nithaniel’s brain.

Omalu also found that Nithaniel’s 2007 injury happened “no more than 24 hours prior to death.”

The Clark County coroner’s office said Nithaniel died of blunt-force trauma to the head.

Las Vegas police spokesman Bill Cassell said Hill was a suspect in 2007 but detectives only recently completed the investigation.

Christine Skorupski, spokeswoman for the Department of Family Services, said the case pertaining to Nithaniel’s death was reopened in June 2008.

“At the time of the fatality, there was no evidence of abuse or neglect contributing to his death,” Skorupski said. “However, upon further evidence of injury from the coroner’s office, an investigation was conducted and the death by abuse was found to be substantiated.”

It is unknown how many children Hill has or whether the past allegations of child abuse against him involved others in addition to Nithaniel.

In June 2008, Child Protective Services removed a newborn son from Mario and Brandi Hill’s home after Nithaniel’s death was ruled a homicide. A second newborn also was taken from the couple earlier this year, according to the police report.

When interviewed by police in May, Child Protective Services investigator Jill Meyer said Mario Hill became “very upset and very hostile” when he was told in January that a move to terminate his parental rights in the case of his son born in 2008 was being initiated.

“I think that placing any child in his care places that child at an extremely high risk for being physically abused,” Meyer told police.

Contact reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@ or 702-383-0279.

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