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Worker indicted for murdering mentally ill resident

MT. HEALTHY, Ohio (Brad Underwood) -- A Hamilton County Grand Jury has indicted a group home employee on charges she murdered one of its residents.

Janice Cooper is charged with murder, voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault. The prosecutor's office says she's responsible for the death of 52-year-old James Zito.

Zito was in the home because he was born with Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy. Prosecutors say he functioned at the level of a 2 1/2 year old child. The coroner determined he died from blunt force trauma on November 18.
Jenny Dexter works for Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services and says this charge of murder on a caregiver is a crushing blow to the great work being done to help people who need it most.
"It sickens me as it does everyone who works for us because we are all laser sharp focused all the time on making sure we are respectful  and watching out for peoples safety," said Dexter.
According to prosecutors, Cooper was the only employee working at Affinity Place business. They say she called 911 to report Zito was having trouble breathing and he was in and out consciousness. She also told dispatchers that his eyes were swollen and purple. Emergency crews took him to Mercy West Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
No one answered the door at Coopers home in Woodlawn, however one neighbor says she doesn't believe the charges.
"I'm shocked because I don't believe she would do something like that," said Debra Cline.  "She's been living there quite a while. I don't think she would do anything like that."

Prosecutor Deters commented in a release, "Mr. Zito functioned at the level of a young child.  Killing him is like killing a child.  As with all of these cases, my office will work hard to seek justice for the victim's family and our community."

If Cooper is convicted of all charges, she faces up to life in prison.
The group home is operated by Empowering People Inc. located in North Olmsted, Ohio. The Local office in Fairfield provided a "no comment" response to questions about the charges filed against Cooper.

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