Craig Rettig was at work the night Peoria police came to his office and took him to the ground. You’re under arrest, they told him, for the murder of Cameron Whetstone.

It was all over the news the next day. But a funny thing happened after his high-profile arrest.

After 4 ½ years, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office quietly dismissed the charges against Rettig this spring. It is, officials told a judge, “in the best interests of justice.”

On July 10, 2004, Rettig was home taking care of his live-in girlfriend’s 19-month-old when the boy became violently ill and stopped breathing. A hysterical Rettig called 911 about 3 p.m., and the boy was flown to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. Doctors suspected he’d been shaken. Within a day, the tot was dead.

The storyline was all laid out: Boyfriend baby-sitter turns baby killer. Even as the child was dying, the cops were closing in.

Cameron and his mother had spent that Saturday morning watching Rettig, then 23, coach a youth basketball game at the YMCA’s Glendale/Peoria branch. When the game ended around 1 p.m., the mother left for work and Rettig took the boy home. The mother told police that her son was fine when she left.

“The infant was seen by numerous witnesses just prior to Craig taking him home and was acting ‘normally’ at that time,” police wrote.

The medical examiner determined that the head injury that caused the boy’s death could only have occurred during the two-hour window when Rettig was alone with the boy that afternoon.

“There’s no way he would function normally,” Dr. John Hu would later testify. “Therefore, it has to be – it has to occur after he was witnessed to be normal.”

Rettig was arrested in September 2004 and spent three days in jail before his family raised the $36,000 to bail him out. He would spend the next 4 ½ years on house arrest, allowed to leave for work – when he could find work. (Suspected baby killers aren’t in high demand.) He was barred from coaching or even seeing his own son from a different relationship.

Fortunately for Rettig, he had a rich friend who put up the money for a good attorney, William Foreman.

It was Foreman who discovered that the boy had fallen and hit his head hard during a visit with relatives the previous weekend.

And while police said “numerous witnesses” had seen the boy acting normally that morning, it was Foreman who talked to the parents on Rettig’s basketball team.

One of them, then-Assistant Attorney General Janis Williams, told me the child had been throwing up for three days before that Saturday morning, when he was so ill that he and his mother couldn’t even sit in the gym to watch the game. Williams was never contacted by police and didn’t get a formal interview with prosecutors until earlier this year.

“They’ve known from the beginning, because I told her (the prosecutor) that I blame myself for him dying,” Williams said, adding that she should have forced the mother – who had no insurance – to take the boy to a doctor.

Foreman hired three forensic experts. All three concluded years ago that Cameron’s head injury occurred up to a week before he died – not in the two hours that Rettig had him that afternoon, as the medical examiner concluded.

In March, prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss the second-degree murder and child-abuse charges against Rettig. They dropped the case without explanation, without even notifying the detective who handled it.

Spokesman Mike Scerbo wouldn’t go into detail, telling me only that the case was dropped after prosecutors checked out “new information” provided by Foreman.

“Based on this new information, additional medical evidence was gathered, which resulted in an alternate explanation for the victim’s injuries,” he said.

New information? Foreman sent them an eight-page letter laying out the “new information” in March 2007.

Foreman wouldn’t comment on what took so long, saying only that prosecutors did the right thing in the end.

“The medical examiner made a drastic error, but his error was premised on a faulty investigation by the police,” he said. “And so bad information in, bad information out.”

Bad information, by the way, that took away nearly five years of Craig Rettig’s life.

Or more. Rettig says he was thrilled when the charges were dismissed, but really, nothing much has changed. He still can’t get a decent job, even though his record shows the charges were dismissed.

“There’s nowhere to go,” he said. “I’m just stuck. I can’t get those years back. That’s the way our system is. You’re guilty until proven innocent if the police think you did it.”

Police didn’t explain why they never contacted Williams or the other parents who say the boy was ill for days before his death.

“This new information came up with stuff that the defense had produced,” Peoria spokesman Mike Tellef told me. “That’s why our guys never interviewed them, because our guys didn’t know that they needed to be interviewed.”

Didn’t know that they needed to interview the people who were with the child on the day that he suddenly became ill and died?

It leads me to wonder just how many Craig Rettigs there are out there – guys who can’t afford an attorney on their own who will ask those questions.

By Laurie Roberts, The Arizona Republic.
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