Thursday, 7 April 2011

SBS: Xzavier Virts suspended sentence

ERIC HARTLEY, 03/31/11
If Xzavier Virts had died that late-winter evening last year, his father would still be in jail.
For a long time, doctors believed Xzavier might die, so severe were the swelling and bleeding in his brain, caused by shaking that a judge called "violent." But the 6-week-old boy survived.
So Thomas Virts, 26, walked out of court a free man this week.
Time served. One hundred nineteen days, to be exact - about the length of an NFL regular season.
What happened to his son was an accident, he says.
As a society, we hold people accountable not just for their intent, but the consequences of their actions.
If you drive drunk, you don't intend to hurt anyone. And a first-offense arrest might net you little to no jail time.
But if you drive drunk and kill someone, you go to jail.
Xzavier didn't die, but his future was forever altered that day in March 2010.
At his most recent evaluation in November, Xzavier was barely able to see; he completed one of 20 tasks on one vision test, one of 22 on another. He couldn't sit up on his own. He couldn't hold his head up for more than a few seconds.
He had the cognitive development and motor skills of a 1- or 2-month-old and has visits with occupational and physical therapists almost every week.
Xzavier is 14 months old. There's been talk of a wheelchair.
No jail sentence would make any of that right. But 119 days doesn't even begin to try.
Here are some sentences in recent fatal beating or shaking cases involving children in Anne Arundel County: 18 months, 12 years, 30 years, 55 years. The longest and the shortest - 18 months and 55 years - were handed down by Judge Paul Hackner, who sentenced Virts.
The facts of the cases are so different that trying to compare them is futile. So is trying to make sense of this one.
Nothing accounts for Xzavier's mother, Ashlie Crowl, trying to make a deal for her loser boyfriend as the boy fought to recover.
"She indicated to the police that she had some information for them on a murder," prosecutor Pamela Alban said. "But she was unwilling to give them that information until they got rid of this case, she said - this case in which the defendant is alleged to have hurt her own child."
Detectives were mystified: Why was Crowl bargaining for this man?
"At some point she made a statement to one of the investigators that she didn't want no broken baby," Alban said.
Fortunately for Xzavier and society, his so-called parents are not caring for him; his paternal grandparents are.
Crowl did, in fact, provide some useful information on a homicide. In exchange, Alban agreed not to seek a specific jail term for Virts.
Early on March 9, 2010, Xzavier wouldn't stop crying in the Crowl family home on Stevens Road in Glen Burnie.
Virts told police he bounced the infant on his knee, rubbed his stomach, cradled him and bounced him on his chest.
Alban said an expert called the injuries "consistent with abusive head trauma" but could not say with medical certainty it was shaken baby syndrome. That's why she agreed to a plea to a lesser count.
Hackner went below the guidelines of three to eight years in prison.
That means Virts got much more time in jail, 331 days, for violating probation on a 2005 theft of about $750 (a coin collection stolen from his dad's bedroom) than he did for hurting Xzavier.
"I had a drug problem before," he said in court Tuesday when his criminal history came up. "But ever since I got with my baby mother Ashlie and everything like that, I've been off of it."
Funny, then, that Alban said police found his fingerprints on drugs in the Crowl house.
Virts added, almost as an afterthought: "Nothing I done was intentional to hurt my kid, Your Honor."
Bizarrely, the judge and the defense lawyer talked of the message this sentence would send.
Peter O'Neill said the 119 days his client served before being released in July on pretrial supervision was "a significant period of time."
"I think that is sufficient to send the message, so to speak, that we cannot tolerate this type of conduct," the lawyer said.
Hackner said he didn't believe Virts' explanation. The judge said he believed the defendant shook the baby "violently" and struck him. And he said he wanted Virts to know what he did was not excusable. It sounded like the preamble to a tough sentence.
Then Hackner let him go free, hanging the remainder of a 10-year suspended sentence over his head.
The judge said Virts likely can be rehabilitated, so "I don't know that there's any necessity to incarcerate him further."

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