CINCINNATI — Liz Carroll stood in Juilfs Park 10 years ago this month, pleading for help. Her foster son was missing, she said, and she was desperate to find him.
"I need help from the public to help my son," she said. "Marcus is my son. I know people think foster care is temporary, but please return him to a hospital."
Two weeks would pass before the truth came out: Marcus Fiesel was already dead, wrapped in a blanket, bound with packing tape and left in a closet to die over a hot August weekend.
But on Aug. 22, 2006, Liz Carroll told a very different story as she addressed the media in Juilfs Park: She claimed she'd blacked out a week earlier due to low blood pressure, and that Fiesel, a 3-year-old with autism, was missing when she woke up.
"I was at the park with him and three other kids, playing on swings and slides, and have low blood pressure issues... collapsed, somehow sometime, Marcus wandered off or was taken... I believe someone did take him, hopefully with good intentions," she said that day.
David Carroll, Marcus' foster father, didn't attend that late August news conference; Liz claimed he was looking after their other children. But she also acknowledged he'd failed a lie detector test.
"They told him he failed," Liz Carroll said. "But like my husband said, he doesn't believe that was accurate — an accurate test or not a real test. Because he knows. He knows he didn't do anything. I didn't do anything. I mean, we are missing our son."
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters wasn't buying the Carrolls' story.
"We suspected her from the very start," he said. A decade later, Deters recalls the events surrounding the case vividly. And it turned out the lie detector test didn't lie.
"Marcus had been dead for a few weeks, and then they faked the kidnapping, and then she had that goofy press conference where she wore the clothes she wore the day that Marcus was allegedly kidnapped in case anyone saw anything," Deters said.
“They just kept digging themselves deeper and deeper."
How Prosecutors Broke Through the 'Bullcrap Story'
On Aug. 16, the day after Marcus was reported missing, Deters said he met with Simon Leis, then Hamilton County sheriff. The last kidnapping by a stranger either man recalled happened in the early 1980s, Deters said.
“I said, ‘So what are the chances of us having a stranger kidnapping at the exact moment the mother passes out?’" he told Leis.
Ten days into the search, Deters said he got a call from Mark Piepmeier in his criminal division. The sheriff's office was running into dead-ends.
"They wanted to come in on Monday," Deters said. "I said, 'Come in on Sunday, come in tomorrow. I want to talk to these detectives tomorrow.'"
Going through the case, Deters said he asked when anyone had last seen Marcus alive. That's when he learned about the family reunion in Williamstown, Kentucky, and told detectives to go talk with relatives that day.
And the next day, with two separate police cars, Deters served Liz Carroll and Amy Baker, David Carroll's live-in girlfriend, with subpoenas requiring them to appear before a grand jury immediately.
Deters said investigators thought Baker would admit what happened, because she wasn't legally responsible for Marcus. So they got her a public defender, took her to a conference room and asked her to explain what happened to the boy.
"She went through the same bullcrap story they’d been telling for the last three weeks," Deters said.
After warning she'd go to prison if she lied to the grand jury, he said Baker asked to talk with her attorney from the public defender's office. After an hour and a half, the attorney came to Deters, "white as a sheet."
“He said, ‘She’s going to tell you what happened. She’s ready to do that.’”
Baker revealed the events leading up to Marcus' death: She said the Carrolls put him in a closet, bound tight, when they left for the family reunion Aug. 4. He had no food or water. A subsequent coroner's investigation found the temperature in the closet was been between 105 and 115 degrees.
“They could hear him screaming in the closet when they left,” Deters said. “When they came back from the family reunion, he was dead in the closet."
After Baker told the grand jury what had happened to Marcus, Deters brought in Liz Carroll to testify. He said he hadn't talked to her beforehand, like he did with Baker. She told the grand jury Marcus had been kidnapped from Juilfs Park.
But as she spoke, prosecutors knew no one had seen Marcus with the Carrolls at the family reunion in Kentucky.
"He (Mark Piepmeier) said, 'Where was Marcus when you went to your family reunion?' And she just froze, because she knew we knew now. And Mark said, 'You wrapped that kid up and threw him in a closet, didn’t you?'"
According to the grand jury testimony, Liz Carroll admitted to leaving Marcus in a closet, in a playpen wrapped in a blanket. She also testified he was dead when the family returned from Kentucky, and that Baker told her she and David Carroll burned Marcus' body. Liz Carroll did not say she had put Marcus in the blanket.
The testimony from Baker and Liz Carroll led detectives to an abandoned farmhouse in Brown County, where David Carroll and Baker burned Marcus' remains in a chimney; what didn't burn they tossed in the Ohio River.
“We still found pieces of his clothing and bone fragments and things like that,” Deters said.
Where They Are Now
Because the Carrolls killed Marcus at their Clermont County home, they were prosecuted for his death there.
Liz Carroll pleaded not guilty despite admitting to the Hamilton County grand jury what happened; a transcript of her testimony shows she claimed Marcus' death was an accident, and that she was innocent. A jury convicted her of murder, involuntary manslaughter, kidnapping, felonious assault and endangering children in Clermont County. In Hamilton County, she pleaded no contest to perjury, inducing panic and making false alarms. She was sentenced to 54 years to life in prison and won't be eligible for parole until 2060.
David Carroll took a plea deal and was sentenced to 15 years to life. He'll be eligible for parole in 2022.
Deters cut a deal with Baker's attorney: Because she told the grand jury what happened — and didn't personally harm Marcus — prosecutors didn't charge her in the Fiesel case. It's still a sore point for some people, Deters said.
"How do we prove our case without her?" he said."Sometimes you have to agree to do something to get the truth out.”
Baker served time for drug trafficking. She finished post-prison supervision in 2012 and now goes by her maiden name, Amy Ramsey.
Liz and David Carroll declined to be interviewed for this story. Baker's attorney has not returned a call requesting an interview.
High-Profile Case Prompted Reforms
Marcus' death spurred reform in the following months and years: In 2009, the Ohio Supreme Court adopted a rule providing a "guardian ad litem" for each foster child; the guardian acts as a liaison between the court and foster care system. Ohio also revoked the license of the foster care company that placed Marcus with the Carrolls, Lifeway for Youth. Ohio Job and Family Services says it has increased mandatory training for caseworkers and put greater emphasis on placing foster kids in permanent, adoptive homes.
According to WCPO media partner the Journal-News, Ohio's Criminal Justice Information System expanded to alert child protective services if a foster parent is criminally charged. Had it been in effect in Butler County, where Marcus was from, he might have been pulled from the Carroll home following a June 2006 domestic violence arrest of David Carroll, though the charge was later dismissed.