A toddler who accidentally hanged himself between a couch and a wall while his caretakers slept had cigarette burns on the soles of his feet and several bite marks and bruises, court testimony shows.
Although the autopsy on 21-month-old Rowan Cannette has not been completed, hair follicle tests on two other children who were living in the home show they had ingested meth, county prosecuting attorney Herman Cox said.
“Meth got into their blood streams, and the expert who performed the test said the only way that can happen is through ingestion, not by being present when meth is smoked,” Cox said.
The two children, evaluated after the toddler was found trapped behind a couch, also had signs of ongoing abuse, and both had ear and sinus infections that were not being treated, he said.
“I don’t know what the parents were thinking,” Cox said.
“All the evidence of different types of abuse shows these parents knowingly allowed the continuing physical abuse of their children. It’s just disgusting.”
Thomas Cannette and Cassandra Lopresto had been locking the children in a bedroom for about three months to keep the kids from getting out while the parents slept, according to Cannette’s testimony against his attorney’s advice on Wednesday.
They used a hook-and-eye latch on the outside of the door to keep the children in their bedroom.
But that didn’t happen on Dec. 3, when Cannette admittedly assumed a man staying at the house was watching the kids, Cox said.
Cannette, an unemployed parolee with an address registered in Gautier, was living on Lamey Bridge Road near Biloxi at the home of his girlfriend, Cassandra Lopresto. Rowan, Cannette’s son, and his 3-year-old son lived there along with Lopresto’s 3-year-old daughter.
A relative was staying at Lopresto’s home, and sometimes his girlfriend stayed as well.
Friends and family know the couple by their nicknames of TC and Cassie.
What deputies say happened
Here is what interviews, reports and testimony show happened the day Rowan died, according to Cox.
Lopresto, a waitress working a night shift, had arrived home between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m., and went to bed along with Cannette.
The boys had been with Cannette’s mother, who brought them home about 10 a.m.
Cannette spoke with his mother but didn’t get up, Cox said.
The man who was staying there had left the house with his girlfriend and they later returned. They were outside when they heard Cannette screaming for help.
Cannette and Lopresto had woken up and asked the 3-year-olds where Rowan was. They couldn’t find him, and then they saw him trapped behind the sofa. His face was resting on the back of the sofa and the rest of his body was stuck between the sofa and a wall.
Cannette retrieved his son and laid him on the floor, and the man staying at the house started trying to perform CPR. The man’s girlfriend called 911 about 2:45 p.m. and followed a dispatcher’s instructions on performing chest compressions. Rowan was taken to Merit Health hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
A doctor’s exam revealed Rowan had cigarette burns on the soles of his feet, three to four child-sized bite marks on his face, left arm and left thigh and bruises on his face and back.
The burns were at various signs of healing, indicating they didn’t happen at the same time, Cox said.
Cannette’s older son had assorted bruises.
Girl’s wounds were infected
Lopresto’s daughter had round, blister-type wounds from cigarette burns on the soles of her feet, also in various stages of healing. One of her burn marks had signs of infection, Cox said.
The girl had bruises on her face, chest, back and legs, and the imprint of a wide belt from above her kidneys and buttocks to her knees, and the impression of a belt buckle. One bruise stretched from the ball joint of her ankle to the top part of the foot where the toes start.
Deputies found two pipes in the house, according to Sheriff Troy Peterson.
Under questioning Wednesday, Cannette said the pipes are his and he uses them to smoke marijuana, going outside to smoke about five times a day, Cox said.
The pipes have been sent to a lab for testing.
Cannette said he had no knowledge about cigarette burns to Rowan’s feet, but said the injuries must have come from a splinter.
“The couple had been locking the children in their room because, as Mr. Cannette said, his 3-year-old son would get into the icebox and tear everything up,” Cox said.
Cannette’s son is believed to be the child who bit Rowan.
Cox asked Cannette if he’d ever sought professional help for his son’s anger. Cannette said he had not.
A broken door and past charges
The old plywood-type door to the children’s bedroom had broken pieces from where the boy apparently had banged on the door trying to get out, Cox said. Some 10 to 15 broken strands of plywood were found on the bedroom floor.
Lopresto did not testify, but in response to an investigator asking her if she’d noticed marks or wounds on her daughter, she said she hadn’t noticed because she bathed her daughter from head to waist and let her bathe the rest of her body.
“The kids are beautiful,” Cox said. “I just don’t understand how all this could happen to them.”
Cannette and Lopresto, both 27, each face three counts of felony child abuse. A single count is punishable by up to 10 years. Convictions on three counts are punishable by up to 30 years.
They probably won’t be charged in Rowan’s death.
“There’s nothing in the investigation that shows they caused his death,” Peterson said.
A judge has turned the case over to a grand jury.
Cannette was convicted of misdemeanor child neglect in Jackson County in 2017 after he and Rowan’s mother smoked marijuana in the presence of two children. The charge was a felony but was reduced to a misdemeanor.
Cannette has been on parole on grand larceny and burglary convictions from Jackson County. He’s now held with no bond on parole warrants from the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
Lopresto has two other children but does not have custody of them, court papers show.
Acquaintances say Lopresto was investigated by the Department of Human Services five years ago over issues that included a Facebook video. The video shows one of her daughters with a sippy cup taped to the child’s hand. In the video, Lopresto keeps asking the child to give her the cup, and she laughs as her child cries, unable to leave the cup in her hands, and then falls down.
She lost custody of her two eldest children for six months, and later gave them up, according to a woman close to the investigation who isn’t authorized to speak about it.