JACKSON, Mich. (WXYZ) - A Jackson family is torn apart. First they lost their 4-year-old daughter. It was three months ago that little Birlkee Giroux went to bed, but the child never woke up. Her parents say they were devastated and shocked by what happened next.
Within days of finding their daughter dead in her bedroom, her parents, Brian and Billie Giroux, were deemed suspects. The state then removed their 8-year-old son Brody from their home while Jackson County authorities investigated the case.
Now, three months later, no charges have been filed, but young Brody's life is in limbo. He is still in protective custody, and experts question whether the prosecutor is using the boy as leverage to get his parents to confess to a murder they say they did not commit.
To hear his family describe him, 8-year-old Brody is like most kids his age, precocious, fun loving and curious.
"Phenomenal little athlete already, and he loves and lives to be with his friends, to go outside and play soccer, to play catch," says Brian Giroux, Brody's father.
Brody's grandma, Shari Rando says her grandson loved his little sister.
"He was a very protective brother," she says.
But on August 7, Brody's life changed. That's when his little sister was found lifeless in her bedroom that summer morning.
"Basically put her to bed like every other night," Brian says. "Covered her up, said love you, and walked out. Went in to wake her up around 9:30 and I found her."
Billie Giroux, Birklee's mother, says that she was in shock when she got news of her daughter's death.
"Not understanding how she can be OK on Monday, and we're playing outside shooting basketball, blowing bubbles…and then, after EMS workers stopped efforts to revive her, the deputy walked out and said she's gone," recalls Birklee's mom, crying.
They say just as they were mourning the death of their little girl, came another blow. This time it was from Child Protective Services (CPS).
Brian Giroux remembers the day a CPS worker arrived, who he describes as blunt and cold.
"'Your daughter's death has been ruled a homicide. Where is your son?' Those were the exact words when they walked in," he recalls.
The state took Brody two weeks after Birklee died. He was placed in foster care with strangers. That's where he remains to this day.
The document that turned the Giroux family upside down was the Jackson County medical examiner's report. It says little Birklee's death was caused by asphyxiation—and the prosecutor is pointing at the parents.
"Brody didn't lose his baby sister," said assistant Jackson County prosecutor Kathleen Rezmierski in court on September 12, to a probate judge. "She was murdered in her bed, and either mom or dad did it. They are the only two suspects in the investigation."
Not only did they take Brody away, he is not allowed to see his parents while in foster care because he is considered a potential witness in the case.
"We also have, until this investigation is completed, concern, whether or not the eight-year old is a regestaewitness, and whether or not a child in that circumstance could be subject to coaching," says the Jackson County Prosecutor Henry Zavislak.
Only Brody's grandparents are allowed supervised visits with him once a month.
"He obviously misses mom and dad, and his family, his routine, his dog…sleeping in his own bed at night," says Bill Gannon is Brody's granddad.
While Brody waits, the wheels of justice move slowly. The prosecutor wanted to conduct a polygraph. But the Giroux's, on the advice of their attorney, chose a highly-respected former state police polygrapher to test them. And both parents passed.
"We've done all the things they've asked us to do," says Billie Grioux. "We took polygraphs; we paid for the polygraphs out of our pocket. We passed with flying colors."
The couple also had a former pathologist review the case—and he doesn't think it was murder. In his report, Dr. Bader Cassin writes "I was surprised to find that the manner of death was called homicide." Cassin also was surprised that the Jackson County medical examiner made his ruling without having the child's medical records or the police report. Cassin report questions whether the "asphyxia" conclusion is accurate.
Brody's parent's suspect that their daughter's death may have been caused by an ongoing condition called febrile seizures. Medical experts say these seizures are fairly common among kids under five and they typically stop on their own. But could such a seizure have caused little Birklee's death? The Chief Pediatric Neurologist at Detroit's Children's Hospital says, "yes," if a fever is involved.
Dr. Harry Chugani of the DMC Children's Hospital says that having a seizure during fever is "…really a form of epilepsy
that is brought out by a fever, and then that's really epilepsy, and epilepsy can cause death in sleep, yes."
The Giroux's say Birkleee was treated for seizures in the past, but not in the days or hours before her death. Still, they and their attorney believe Birklee's brother Brody is now being held hostage to pressure the couple to confess to killing their daughter, a crime they say they didn't commit.
"It's horrendous, the abuse of power and authority that's occurred here" says the Giroux's attorney Stan Sala. "They really don't have anything, they're grasping at straws. And then the threat in answer to the motion that says we're going to keep Brody until you give us what we want is unbelievable!"
Asked what the prosecution wants, Sala says, "They want someone to admit to a crime that didn't occur."
The prosecutor denies using Brody as a confession tool.
Brody's parents insist they did not harm their daughter, and desperately want their son returned home.
"Our son is with strangers," says Billie Groux, crying. "We can't see him. We can't hold him. We can't talk with him about his sister's death. We can't reassure him."
While they wait for Brody to return, the Grioux's have kept his bedroom and their daughter's room just as they were before they were gone – except now those rooms are quiet and still.
Next week, the Giroux's will be back in court. This time they will be going up against the Department of Human Services. Based on the medical examiner's report that ruled Birklee's death a homicide, the state has filed an abuse and neglect case to keep Brody from going home for good.