OAKLAND — Fernando Loughlin said he didn't kill his son.
It was an accident, Loughlin told police, caused when he was distracted and dropped the 3-month-old baby into the bathtub as he was trying to pick him up.
Loughlin, 36, hoped to convince a jury that the death of Julian Loughlin was a mistake and clear his name from a charge of murder filed against him by a skeptical District Attorney's Office.
Loughlin's attorney was prepared to attack the diagnosis of a Children's Hospital doctor who declared the death a result of a child abuse and had dozens of witnesses, including Loughlin's wife and mother-in-law, standing by to testify as character witnesses on behalf of Loughlin.
But that defense ended Wednesday, after just one day of testimony, when Loughlin agreed to a plea deal that will most likely send him to prison for 10 months.
The unexpected deal was made, said Loughlin's attorney, William Locke, to both avoid the risk of his client spending his life in prison and because Loughlin's older son, a 5-year-old, had just been diagnosed with leukemia return after being in remission for two years.
"My client was facing a life sentence if he was convicted so I understand he has made a rational decision under these circumstances and under these risks," Locke said. "I am disappointed because I am persuaded about his innocence."
Under the deal, Loughlin pleaded no contest to and therefore was found guilty of one count
of involuntary manslaughter with an indication from Alameda County Superior Court Judge Gloria Rhynes that she will sentence him to the minimum two years in prison.
With credits for time served, Loughlin, who will remain free on a $350,000 bail until sentencing in April, will likely serve 10 months in prison.
Locke said the deal will allow Loughlin to be by his older son's hospital bedside as he faces another round of treatment for leukemia. The son must stay in critical care at a hospital for several months.
Deputy district attorney Tim Wellman said his office agreed to the deal because the case had conflicting evidence and the deal guarantees that Loughlin will be held responsible for the death of his child.
"There was going to be conflicting medical evidence, there was going be a lack of certain corroborating evidence, the defendant had no criminal history and no history of abuse on children or others. It was also understood that he had strong family support," Wellman said. "From our perspective we wanted a resolution that would hold him accountable for taking the life of a child and bring certainty to the case."
Wellman's case against Loughlin was based largely on a diagnosis by a Children's Hospital doctor who declared Julian Loughlin's injuries could only be caused by child abuse.
The 3-month-old was brought to hospital with severe brain trauma, broken ribs and a damaged liver.
Wellman also told a jury Monday that he would show that Loughlin initially lied to both a 911 operator and later police about what happened to his son claiming, at first, that the baby was sleeping when he stopped breathing.
Loughlin didn't speak about dropping his son until he was confronted by the opinion of Dr. James Crawford, who specializes in child abuse cases, and who never wavered from his initial diagnosis that Julian suffered child abuse.
But Locke was prepared to challenge the opinions of Crawford with another doctor who has also worked extensively on child abuse cases and who has found fault with the shaken-baby syndrome, a medical diagnosis of child abuse that is now being challenged.
Locke also was going to call Loughlin's friends and family members to the witness stand in hopes of convincing the jury that Loughlin never showed aggression toward his children or others.
Locke said during opening statements that his client initially lied about what happened to his son because he panicked and was scared that he would be found to be an incompetent parent for dropping his son in a bathtub.
"He made a reasonable decision under horrible circumstances," Locke said.