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Mother fights for custody of baby while officials investigate older child’s death

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SHERRY LONG
The Ellis County Press

Glenn Heights - Nicole Shipley, a young local mother, lost her oldest son in December of 2001, and because of the circumstances surrounding his death - her three-week-old second son was removed from her custody in February of this year.

Even though she has never been charged with any crime, a Child Protective Services supervisor advised Shipley she can not receive custody of her child until Ellis County officials drop her as a suspect in her first child's death.

'They're taking my son, saying I'm guilty until proven innocent, when it's supposed to be innocent until proven guilty,' said Shipley, who is fighting for custody of her now six-month-old son, Nathan DePuy. Shipley said law enforcement officials have told her in no certain terms they believe a member of her family intentionally murdered her oldest son, Andrew Blake Rod-riquez, because of his special needs condition and the strain it placed on her parents, Robert and Tammy Shipley, who cared for Rodriquez while his mother worked.

Rodriquez died from what was originally believed to be natural causes due to his condition, but later a high level of hydrocodone, a pain reliever commonly used in cough medicine, was discovered in his system by the Dallas County Medical Examiner's office during the autopsy.

Ellis County District Attorney Joe Grubbs said his department opened an investigation looking into the incident after toxicology reports were received.

Rodriquez was born with Walker-Warburg Syndrome, a severe genetic disorder, also known as Hydrocephalus, Agyria and Retinal Dysplasia Syndrome in November 1998.

HARD patients suffer severe eye, muscle-skeletal and central nervous system abnormalities leaving many blind and suffering from muscular dystrophy.

Children who have a severe form of the disease often die within a year.

Those surviving to their fifth birthday suffer from severe mental and developmental retardation, according to Dr. Sandra Silva and Dr. Philippe Jeantys' article on website, www.thefetus.net.

Due to his condition, Hernandez was forced to take nightly medicine mixed with his bottle and fed to him through a feeding tube.

Shipley said the only thing her family can figure is when Tammy Shipley was preparing her grandson's nightly bottle around 10 p.m. she accidentally picked up the wrong medicine, giving Hernandez his mother's cough medicine instead of his.

As Rodriquez's grandfather went to pick him up from his playpen about 8 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 1 the child was already dead.

Shipley does not dispute the cause of death of her son, however, she does stress her son's death was not intentional, but a misfortunate accident.

According to a Dallas County toxicologist, who requested to remain anonymous rigor mortis begins stiffing smaller muscles three to four hours after death and sets in completely by the 12th hour of death.

Shipley said the autopsy and ambulance reports prove she could not have killed her son because she was at work until 2 a.m. the morning of his death.

She said she has, at investigator's requests, went to the Ellis County Sheriff's Department more than five times, usually without an attorney present, to answer all questions concerning her son's death.

'She's (Shipley) fully cooperated with all their questions,' said Steven Bankhead, Shipley's attorney, who is handling her CPS case.

Shipley says she has passed a polygraph test administered by Eric Holden.

She said law enforcement personnel told her Holden was the best polygraph tester in the business and no one could fool his machine.

In December 2002 she testified before a grand jury with a no bill decision, according to Shipley.

Shipley said police have asked her, 'Did she feel the need to get rid of him' to ease the strain on the family.

Tammy Shipley suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, and according to Nicole Shipley investigators have told her they believe it is one reason the family wanted to get rid of Hernandez.

'There are several people we are looking at,' Ellis County Sheriff's Detective Louis Valladares said after questioning Shipley in late June regarding her son's death.

During the latest round of questioning, Shipley said Valladares told her he did not think she killed her son.

According to Shipley, the detective said he felt it was a member of the family who had caused the toddler's death and had done so unintentionally.

Shipley said the day before his death Hernandez was enrolled in a Headstart special education program in Ferris where he would be able to interact with other children his age, which would give her mother a break from helping care for him.

Grubbs and Ellis County Sheriff's Department Investigator Marlena Pendley declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.

Meanwhile, Shipley visits her son two hours a week during supervised visits at the Dallas CPS office.

'I watch my son grow up in a room for two hours a week,' Shipley said. 'I'm missing out on so much.'

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