Local News

Hospitalized father charged with killing son

Posted September 24, 2010 3:20 p.m. EDT
Updated September 27, 2010 3:55 p.m. EDT

— A Durham County man was charged Friday with killing his 4-year-old son early Wednesday, and deputies released more details of their investigation of the crime.

Joseph Anthony Mitchell, 46, of 17 Thistle Trace in Hillsborough, was recuperating in Duke University Hospital from what investigators say are self-inflicted stab wounds when he was served with arrest warrants charging him with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.

A magistrate also went to the hospital and ordered that Mitchell be held without bond in the Durham County jail upon his release from the hospital. Late Friday, Mitchell was taken to Central Prison for safe-keeping.

Blake Mitchell was killed early Wednesday in the family home, and an investigator said the boy's injuries were consistent with suffocation or strangulation.

Two other children in the home at the time, 10-year-old Devon Mitchell and 13-year-old Lexi Mitchell, told investigators that they awoke to find their father trying to cover their mouths or faces, and they had to fend him off, according to a search warrant.

At some point during the attack, Mitchell's wife, Christine, ran to another part of the house trying to get help for her children, said Lt. Stan Harris of the Durham County Sheriff's Office.

Harris said investigators are trying to be as sensitive as possible in gathering information from the family.

"We are very cognizant of their mental state right now and their emotional state, so we don't want to push too hard," he said. "When you have children, especially for those of us who have younger children, it hits home. It hits you right in the heart."

Investigators took two computers and information on life insurance policies, including policies on the three children, from the home. They also seized a mask, a knife, two gloves, a envelope from BB&T addressed to Joseph Mitchell and other items from the house, according to the search warrant.

The family had suffered numerous financial setbacks, and neither Joseph nor Christine Mitchell had reliable incomes, investigators said. Friends said that Mitchell, an EMS worker, had been unemployed for about a year, and his wife was also out of work.

According to court records, the family's house in the Hardscrabble Plantation subdivision was foreclosed on in mid-June. Investigators said the house was supposed to be turned over to a bank in the coming weeks.

Numerous papers had been served on the family in an effort to collect on other debts, according to the search warrant.

Joseph Mitchell handled all of the family's finances, and his wife told investigators that she thought all of the financial problems had been resolved in the family's favor.

"Whether (the financial troubles) played a major role or not, we are just not at liberty to say right now," Harris said.