OAKLAND -- When Fernando Loughlin called 911 after his 3-month-old son stopped breathing, he told the operator that his son was alone and asleep when he noticed the baby's breathing had stopped. He told paramedics the same story and initially told police that he had no idea what had happened to his son Julian on the morning of March 3, 2007.
It wasn't until Loughlin, 36, was told that his son was suffering from massive head trauma, and that a doctor at Children's Hospital Oakland believed it was caused by child abuse, that Loughlin broke down in tears and told police that he accidentally dropped Julian in the bathtub.
For those lies, Loughlin was sentenced Friday to prison for two years after agreeing to a surprising deal in which he pleaded no contest and was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the death of Julian.
Loughlin contends that he never intentionally hurt his child but said he initially lied about what happened because he was fearful his son would be taken from him and his wife.
It was a series of lies his attorney William Locke said Friday that will haunt Loughlin for the rest of his life.
"Certainly, he made that lie and he kept it up, that is something that he will regret for as long as he lives," Locke said. "He was deeply wrong."
The lies also prove that he was not acting in a reasonable manner when he reacted to dropping his son in the bathtub and for that he should serve prison time, Alameda
County Superior Court Judge Gloria Rhynes said.
"This is not the way that parents should conduct themselves," Rhynes said just before she sent Loughlin to prison as about 15 of his friends and family cried. "I, in no way, want Mr. Loughlin to believe in his own mind that he should be absolved."
Julian's death occurred the morning of March 3, 2007, after Loughlin had bathed him. According to Loughlin's attorney, Loughlin was in the process of lifting Julian out of the bathtub when an older son rushed into the bathroom and attempted to jump into the bath.
With one arm cradling Julian, Locke said, Loughlin tried to keep his older son from getting into the tub but in the process dropped Julian, who hit his head on the ceramic tub and a plastic infant bath seat.
The fall caused massive trauma to Julian's skull and matched the injuries many doctors say are caused by shaken baby syndrome.
But instead of immediately calling 911 and telling the truth, Loughlin attempted to hide his mistake by dressing his dead baby and then initially claiming that he did not know what happened.
The injuries suffered by Julian coupled with Loughlin's original lies convinced James Crawford of Children's Hospital Oakland that Julian was a victim of child abuse. Crawford's opinions then persuaded the district attorney's office to file murder charges.
But Locke was prepared to challenge Crawford's findings and present a cadre of character witnesses showing that Loughlin had never exhibited any violent tendencies toward his children.
Locke never had an opportunity to present his case because Loughlin agreed to the plea deal after just one day of testimony. At the time, Locke said the deal was made to avoid the risk of Loughlin being sent to prison for the rest of his life and because his older son had just been diagnosed with a return of leukemia after it was in remission for two years. Under the deal, Loughlin was allowed to remain free on bail until the sentencing Friday.
Deputy district attorney Tim Wellman, who began to try the case and then later accepted the plea, said the resolution of the case without a full trial was fair. At the time of the plea deal Wellman said the case had conflicting medical evidence and that the deal would guarantee that Loughlin is held responsible for Julian's death.
"Parents run into burning buildings to save their children but what did the defendant do? I ask the court to consider that," Wellman said Friday. "It is clear in this case that the defendant put his own self interest in front of his child's health."
Rhynes said she agreed to sentence Loughlin to the minimum two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter because of the conflicting medical evidence and the testimony that was expected to be presented during the trial showing that Loughlin had no criminal record and was supported by his wife, other family and friends.
But she said Loughlin could not be let free because he did not act as he should have after dropping his baby in the bathtub.
"We do know that Fernando Loughlin put in place a chain of events that led to his child's death including making a series of lies," the judge said. "That is not the act of a conscientious parent, that is not the act of a devoted parent."