Thursday, 17 March 2011

SBS: North Carolina: Jeremiah Seckman pleads guilty to felony child abuse

By Beth Pleming · March 11, 2011 ·
26-year-old Waynesville man whose infant daughter was blinded after he “burped” her will spend seven months in prison after pleading guilty Monday to felony child abuse.
Jeremiah Seckman pleaded guilty to felony child abuse inflicting serious physical injury before Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus, who imposed a split sentence, including seven months active prison time and 36 months of probation.
Seckman said nothing in court Monday, but told authorities during early interviews he was awakened by the child several times during the night of Aug. 16, 2009, and that he burped the baby and went back to bed, prosecutor Jeff Jones told the court. The following morning, the child appeared to be having a seizure. Numerous medical professionals looked at the case and determined the baby’s injuries are consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
The child has been diagnosed as blind, Jones said, but appears to be showing signs of slight improvement.
Attorneys Jonathan Song and Pat Smathers represented Seckman in court Monday.
“This is a very tragic case for all involved, especially the child,” Song said. “(Seckman) hopes this will bring some closure to everyone involved.”
Prosecutors agreed to accept Seckman’s plea to a negotiated lower class felony child abuse charge primarily because it’s what her mother wants, Jones said. He had her confirm for the court that she is in agreement with the arrangement.
She believes it’s in the child’s best interest to take the plea so they can move on with their lives, he continued. Having a felony conviction will enable her to seek to terminate his parental rights, if she chooses to do so.
District Attorney Mike Bonfoey said refusing the plea offer wasn’t worth the risk of losing the case in a jury trial.
“We trust the jury’s decision in most cases, but there are some cases we don’t want to risk the jury doing what we think is the wrong thing to do,” he said. “We gave a lot of credence to the biological mother of this child. She knows her child probably better than anyone else, and probably knows the defendant better than anyone else.”
Furthermore, Jones said, signs that the child’s eyesight is improving, however slightly, poses a prosecutorial challenge to proving that the injuries are permanent, a necessary element for a conviction to the higher felony.
“In a case like this where a custodial parent knows her child best,” Jones said prosecutors believed this was the right thing to do. Counsel on both sides agreed “there was no intention to blind this child,” he said.
Special sentencing conditions that called for a split sentence were part of the plea deal. Gavenus suspended a 29- to 44 month sentence, placed Seckman on probation for three years. As a special condition of probation, he ordered Seckman to serve seven months active in the N.C. Department of Corrections. Upon his release, he will be placed under intensive supervision for six months, which will require him to complete community service and parenting classes. If he violates probation, the remaining portion of his sentence will be activated, minus 21 days for time served.
He is not to have any direct or indirect contact with his now 20-month old daughter or her mother, per the judge’s orders.

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