A year ago today, police officers walked into the Highlandtown rowhouse where a 2 1/2 -year-old boy had been murdered and found Franklin Carl Redden smiling.
"It's not my kid," Redden told them calmly.
Redden was smiling again yesterday before Baltimore Circuit Judge John Carroll Byrnes sentenced him to the maximum 30 years for second-degree murder.
"I think it's revealing," the judge told him. "It's probably the same smile the officers saw. It reveals you. It reveals you."
The crime makes "all of us pause and wonder about the state of human nature," the judge said.
"You are something else . . . other than the human beings we normally have in this courtroom," Byrnes said. "Rarely ever do we see a case as grotesque as this one."
Redden pleaded guilty in February to killing his girlfriend's youngest son, David Michael Winterstein, who was beaten with a belt and suspended from an upper bunk bed because he had regressed in his toilet training.
Redden accepted what is known as an Alford plea, in which he denied that he actually killed the boy but conceded that there was enough evidence to convict him.
David's mother, Idamae Winterstein, 30, also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced May 1 to 30 years in prison.
Redden, 40, tried to withdraw his plea yesterday, claiming that his former lawyer had "coerced" him into pleading guilty. But Byrnes denied a motion filed by his new lawyer, Lawrence Rosenberg. His ex-lawyer, Stephen Sacks, denied the allegation on the stand.
Wearing a blue sports jacket, the long-haired defendant told the judge: "I'm sorry this all happened."
But Redden, who was described as being learning-impaired, was unable to answer when pressed by the judge to explain why he was sorry.
Rosenberg said the crime was "almost nauseating," but he asked the court for leniency. Redden, who had a minor criminal record until the murder conviction, was remorseful, Rosenberg said.
Prosecutor Laura Mullally said leniency for Redden would be an "utter joke." She said David's brother and sister, who are now 11 and 9, had seen the defendant beat David.
Redden moved into Winterstein's South Conkling Street home the day after the death of her husband. The older children called Redden their "new daddy," Mullally said.
"Thirty days later their new daddy had killed their little brother and they don't know why," she said.
After the death of his father, David regressed in his toilet training and his punishment became progressively worse, Mullally said. "He was to Mr. Redden a pain in the neck."
An autopsy noted multiple bruises, cigarette burns, and holes from the prong of a belt buckle. The wounds were compounded by dehydration and untreated bronchial pneumonia. Mullally called it a "slow, horrible death."
The two other children are now living with an aunt, who said yesterday that she is seeking custody rights. The aunt, who asked not to be identified by name, said the children are still "very angry" at their mother, but are doing well in school.