In a case charged with emotion and marked by a clash between families, a county judge sentenced a Pasadena man to 12 months of house arrest after finding him guilty of manslaughter and child abuse in the death of a 13-month-old boy.
Michael Lewis Crockett, 18, was found guilty Friday in connection with the Jan. 16 death of Christopher Lewis Krauss, who was struck in the face with such force that he was knocked from his high chair onto the floor.
County Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. gave Crockett a sentence of six years, immediately suspending all but the eight months already served while Crockett awaited sentencing.
Crockett also must serve 12 months of house arrest in his mother's home, perform 416 hours of community service, undergo drug counseling and submit to random urinalysis.
Walter and Patricia Krauss, Christopher's grandparents, were outraged by the sentence.
"The court just let a murderer go, just let him go," shouted Patricia Krauss after the 30-minute sentencing. "He beat my beautiful grandson to death. That constitutes murder.
"They never loved Christopher. They couldn't have cared for Christopher," she said.
During the sentencing, an emotional Crockett told the judge he did love Christopher and the baby's 16-year-old mother, Erin Lynn McCarthy.
"I love my family, and I love Erin's family," hetold the judge. "I never meant to hurt none of them, especially my son."
As part of his sentence, Thieme stipulated that Crockett could have no contact with McCarthy or the Krauss family. He did not stipulate a time period.
Thieme found Crockett guilty of manslaughter and child abuse based on a statement of facts presented by the prosecution July 8. The defense agreed to the facts as presented, but Crockett pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder and child abuse.
Crockett could have been sentenced to a maximum of 10 years for manslaughter and 15 years for child abuse. State guidelines call for a minimum sentence of one to six years for each of the counts.
Thieme reasoned that if he gave Crockett the minimum suggested for both counts, or two years, Crockett would probably be released immediately, having served eight months already.
The judge said he was obligated in the sentencing to consider Crockett's background, which is free of criminal convictions. A more stringent sentence probably would be reversed on appeal, he said.
Crockett has been held in the county detention center in lieu of $50,000 bond since his arrest Jan. 18. Under Thieme's sentence, he will be released to home detention Sept. 20.
Assistant State's Attorney Michael Bergeson, arguing for a murder conviction, said Crockett willfully committed a dangerous act when he struck the child, thus making his actions tantamount to murder.
"It's hard to imagine striking a child hard enough to knock himout of his high chair," Bergeson said. "It's hard to imagine striking a child hard enough to kill him with one blow."
But Assistant Public Defender Kendel L. Sibiski argued that the facts showed no malice on Crockett's part. The facts showed he slapped the child "one timeonly," she said.
"There is no other sign that this went beyond one slap," she said. "This young man has really shown remorse. . . . Hehas shown he really did love that child.
"For some reason, he lost control that day," she said.
According to court records, Crockett was living with McCarthy and her parents in Pasadena at the time ofChristopher's death.
On the morning of Jan. 16, McCarthy left forhigh school and the Krausses for work, while Crockett stayed behind to care for the child. Crockett, who is not the baby's father, told county police that when he attempted to feed Christopher, the baby threw a jar of baby food and began spitting out his food.
Crockett told police he hit the child with his open hand on the head and neck. The baby, who was in his high chair, fell to the floor, hitting his head on Crockett's knee. Crockett then put the child in his crib.
Minutes later, McCarthy arrived home and the two checked on the baby. Finding him not breathing and with no heartbeat, they called 911.
Attempts to resuscitate the baby were unsuccessful, he was taken to North Arundel Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. An autopsy showed the baby had bruises on his face, chest and buttocks.