A Kiln man was caring for his girlfriend's toddler when he abused the child, causing head wounds that led to the boy's death, sheriff's officials said.
Charles Connetti III, 25, was arrested early Tuesday morning on a capital murder charge in the death of 16-month-old Maddox Viergge.
Capital murder is a killing that occurs during the act of another felony crime. It is punishable by death or life in prison without parole.
The underlying charge for the capital murder charge is felony child abuse, said Hancock County sheriff's Cmdr. Glenn Grannan.
"Mr. Connetti was the father figure in the child's life," Grannan said.
The toddler and his mother had spent the night at the home Connetti shared with his parents, who thought of the child as their grandson, Grannan said.
First-responders were called to the Connettis' home Thursday on Kiln Acres Drive, north of Kiln-Picayune Road, and said they found Maddox suffering from cerebral bleeding and hemorrhaging.
Medical personnel believed the child had suffered traumatic head injuries, Grannan said.
"He had difficulty breathing because he had blood in his lungs," he said.
Maddox was taken to Hancock Medical Center in Bay St. Louis and later flown Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans, where he died just after midnight Saturday.
"We started looking for (Connetti) Monday afternoon after our investigation determined him to be a person of interest in the murder of the toddler," Grannan said. "We believe it took place outside the home, but we don't know for certain yet."
The report from an autopsy Monday has not yet been made available to the sheriff's office. However, an investigator was at the Mississippi Forensic Laboratory in Jackson to observe the autopsy and discuss findings with the medical examiner, Grannan said. The investigator also had spoken with Oschner doctors who treated the child.
"The medical evidence points to abuse as the cause of his injuries," Grannan said.
"There is no other medical explanation to explain what happened other than somebody causing head trauma. All we can do is to isolate what took place, a time frame and we know the baby had been in Mr. Connetti's care."
A warrant with no bond was issued. A deputy pulled over Connetti in a traffic stop early Tuesday. He was booked at the Hancock County jail about 1 a.m.
Connetti is held pending court action.