Sometimes you just have to shake your head in bewilderment as you come out of the courthouse.
Today was one of those days.
I often hear comments from members of the public that make me think they'd like to nearly crucify a judge or the State Attorney for lenient sentences and plea agreements. Today I wished the jurors who heard this case had been in the courtroom. Because it was their verdict that is responsible for this lenient sentence (though the judge imposed the maximum allowable by law).
Hopefully they'll find this blog.
Chris K Stevens, age 26, was sentenced today for one count of misdemeanor Battery and one count of Neglect of a Child. CourtWatch was the only person in the gallery.
Mr. Stevens was originally charged with Aggravated Child Abuse (maximum penalty 30 years), Attempted Felony Murder (maximum penalty LIFE), and Neglect of a Child (maximum 5 years) relating to an assault on his 8-year old daughter on 10/22/08.
Stevens allegedly beat his daughter so severely that she sustained a fractured vertebra and a bruised liver. He then decided to ship her off to grandma's house in Washington State, contacted his sister to accompany her on the plane, dressed her in a Halloween witch's costume with a veil over her face for the flight, and told her that if anybody asked about her injuries, to tell them she had been in a car wreck. He did not seek professional medical attention for her injuries before the trip.
His sister, while on the flight, asked her to remove the veil and was appalled at her condition (I'd still like to know how TSA and airline personnel in our post-9/11 world didn't think it was suspicious that her face was covered, even though it was Halloween). When they arrived in Washington, the child's aunt and grandmother sought medical attention for her.
The child told her grandmother that her father had done this to her.
A pediatric doctor testified at the trial in April that her injuries were life threatening. A pediatric nurse testified that after she counted 50 individual blows to the child's body, she stopped counting. Understandably, the child did not come to testify at the trial. Her statements, considered hearsay, could not be heard by the jury. Nor could information about the defendant's arrest in March, 2007 for child abuse, child neglect, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor be heard because he was acquitted by a different jury.
In that older case, Stevens allegedly ran out the back door of his home, threw his daughter (the same victim) over a fence, jumped over himself, and held her up as a human shield to prevent law enforcement officers from shooting him in a drug bust.
After several minutes of discussion about the sentencing scoresheet, the hearing centered on the defendant's contention that he was the victim of a home invasion wherein two perpetrators (who have never been identified) beat his daughter because he didn't tell them where his drugs were hidden. He asserted that he had been punched in the stomach (having the wind knocked out of him) and couldn't respond to their demands fast enough to prevent the attack on his daughter. He also testified that he did not call law enforcement at the time because he did not want to get in trouble for having drugs in the house.
There was no evidence presented at trial that he sustained any injuries on the date in question. His sister testified at trial that she never saw any injuries on him.
Judge Marc Lubet, with a hint of sarcasm in his voice, noted "so they beat the child in the face, but not him in the face?" Stevens claimed he went in hiding after the invasion so nobody saw him, to which the judge replied, "That's not true, you went and met your sister." Stevens quickly backpedaled and said that was the only time he came out.
Apparently, there was enough reasonable doubt in the minds of the trial jury for them to convict Stevens only of misdemeanor Battery and felony Child Neglect.
I guess they left their common sense at home when they came for jury duty.
Defense Counsel Beth Bourdon provided a vigorous defense for her client today and spoke eloquently on his behalf. Stevens, who has no convictions on his criminal record (but several cases on http://www.myorangeclerk.com/) addressed the Court and told the judge about his church involvement, mentoring the troubled youth in his church, his desire to be a productive member of society, to get back to work (the minister's wife is apparently willing to hire him as a barber) and support his family, to do his charity work, and to have a relationship with his father who has cancer. He promised the judge that he could and would successfully complete any and all requirements imposed by probation if it was granted. He promised several times that he would be a law-abiding citizen and would never be back in this position again.
There were no defense witnesses (church members or family members) present to corroborate his promises or the representations he made about his church involvement and their support of him.
Assistant State's Attorney Deborah Barra reminded the Court that the defendant was responsible, either directly or indirectly (if one is to believe the home invasion story), for the child's injuries. Adding to that the fact that he did not seek medical attention for her, Barra asked for the maximum penalty available (1 + 5 years).
Ms. Bourdon requested the minimum sentence per the sentencing guidelines (19.65 months), 3 years probation, community service and a parenting class for her client.
Judge Lubet imposed the maximum penalties (with credit for 342 days time served), to be served consecutively, plus fines of $1,000 and $5,000 respectively, court costs, costs of prosecution, a $1,500 lien for the public defender, and ordered restitution.
The defendant, after hearing the sentence, reminded the judge that he had no criminal history and asked if he might do Community Control instead of prison. He spoke about the financial hardship of the sentence and his desire to support his family and pay the costs. He promised that he would never be in this position again and asked for the opportunity to prove himself, asserting that being a father and a member of the community was the most important thing to him. He spoke again of his church involvement (1 year before being arrested) and his spiritual growth. He promised to be an upstanding citizen. He claimed he doesn't do drugs (although he admitted that he had been around them slightly) and he teaches the kids to stay away from them. He promised this. He promised that.
He exhibited not one iota of remorse for what he did.
He claimed he's been a great father for all his kids (I'm not sure how many there are), except he made a bad decision with having become associated with drugs and the drug culture. He talked again about his work with the youth - teaching them to avoid drugs.
Judge Lubet replied that once he gets out of prison he'll really have something to tell them about and encouraged him to keep up the good work.
This is a young man that has been able to tap dance his way out of trouble for his entire life. He was long on promises today. Only time (and what he does after his 5 years in prison) will tell if he was sincere.
At the outset of today's sentencing hearing, the State made a motion to find the defendant in contempt of court for violating the no contact order that had been imposed. Ms. Barra was prepared to play the CD of his phone call from the jail to his daughter on Christmas Day. More calls are being reviewed for possible prosecution. Each count would potentially be worth an additional 6 months on his sentence.