The Redmond man accused of injecting his 4-year-old son with heroin has been charged with attempted first-degree murder in a crime prosecutors believe was carried out to get back at a spouse in a bitter divorce.
"It's a case of both child abuse and domestic violence," King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg tells KIRO Radio's Dori Monson. "Our theory is that he did this so that his ex-wife would find the boy and the father together because she was scheduled to come pick him up, and that is exactly what happened."
Court documents say the mother found her ex-husband, Eric Emil Lehtinen, 37, and their 4-year-old son in bed. She found vomit at Lehtinen's mouth and a syringe on her son's chest.
After attempting to wake her son and finding he was unresponsive, court documents say the mother, then hysterical, called 911. The boy was taken to Seattle Children's, and his father to a local hospital.
Medical staff at the hospital found puncture wounds on the 4-year-old's neck and buttocks, indicating needle sticks, court documents say. The hospital reportedly found evidence of not only heroin in his blood, but also ketamine, morphine, codeine, and other drugs.
"He punctured his son's neck with a full syringe," says Satterberg. "There were seven of them [syringes] found in the apartment, but at least one of them was emptied into the neck and buttocks of this 4-year-old child."
"I've been a prosecutor for almost 30 years now and every time you think you've seen it all, you haven't," says Satterberg of the shocking case.
"You never know exactly what would motivate something like this, but there was a divorce that had been finalized really that day that this happened. The mom was letting the dad see the son under the conditions that were spelled out in the divorce papers. She came into this scene and it looked like it was something the father wanted her to see."
Court documents indicate Lehtinen has a long history of drug abuse, including previous overdoses and threats of suicide. But his ex-wife tells authorities she thought her ex-husband was clean.
"He claimed to be drug free at the time," says Satterberg. "She did not believe he would have harmed his own son. Few people can believe a human being is capable of doing this to a small child."
Lehtinen was booked into jail after being released from the hospital, and if convicted, he faces at least a 15-year prison sentence, says Satterberg.
It's unknown whether the boy will suffer long-term damage from the overdose. Satterberg says he has a team of social workers and doctors who will be working with him going forward.
"For me," says Dori. "I talk about stories like this all the time and it gets discouraging when you realize there are new depths of evil that the human soul can plummet to when you see something like this."
Satterberg says the best thing we can do is learn from it, to potentially keep incidents like this from happening in the future.
"It's good to know when looking at protecting children, here's another thing we have to protect them from that we might not have thought about before," says Satterberg.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.