Nineteen-year-old Joseph Henry Schneider sniffed and cried and said he was sorry. He apologized to his family, to the judge and to the family of the 4-year-old girl prosecutors say he punched and nearly killed.
Prosecutors said Schneider, who had been baby-sitting the girl at her Pasadena home, lost his cool when she urinated on the furniture.
"I admit I have a temper problem. I let my temper overrule me," Schneider said yesterday at his sentencing hearing in Circuit Court. "I love that little girl like a niece."
Before 19-year-old Schneider was sentenced to three years in prison for child abuse, his brother, 21-year-old Donald Schneider Jr., was sentenced to six months housearrest for playing kissing and oral sex games with 11- to 13-year-old neighborhood girls.
Afterward, Schneider family members angrily complained about the press, the judicial system and the 4-year-old's family.
"My lawyer sold me up the river," Donald Schneider said. "He said I would get probation."
Lawyer Myer E. Grossfeld, who represented both brothers, tried to quiet the family. Meanwhile, Donald Schneider Sr. complained that the girl's mother was a lousy parent, and he said his son did not cause the 4-year-old's life-threatening injuries.
"I'm saying he didn't do it," the father said. Reminded that his son had, minutes earlier, apologized for the crime, the elder Schneider said, "They told him to say that."
During the hearing, Grossfeld also had suggested the 4-year-old's mother should share the blame for the injuries received by their child because she should haveknown the younger Schneider lacked the maturity to care for the child.
Three months before the Jan. 7, 1991 punching incident, the child had been rushed to the hospital after drinking cleaning fluid, thelawyer said.
Assistant State's Attorney Cynthia M. Ferris responded, "Her mother is in no way to blame for this."
The prosecutor said the child has become fearful since the incident. A letter written by the mother and included in the court file shows the girl suffers nightmares and is afraid of strangers.
When Joseph Schneider's father kicked him out of the house in October 1990 for failing to find a job, the man moved into his neighbor's house, Ferris said at a July court hearing. He would baby-sit the 4-year-old in exchange for room and board, the prosecutor said.
But Jan. 7, the girl suffered injuries so serious that she temporarily stopped breathing on the way to the hospital.
Schneider told authorities that the girl had injured her head in a sledding accident on a nearby hill, but he later changed his story, claiming he had gotten angry at the girl and pushed her down on a bed, causing her to "bounce up" and hit her head.
Ferrissaid the girl apparently was punched so hard in the stomach that herintestines were crushed against her spinal cord.
Joseph Schneiderpleaded guilty to child abuse and to a charge of perverted practice in connection with neighborhood sex games called "Truth or Dare."
The game started with five or six youths kissing each other but laterincluded sex acts involving an 11-year-old sister of the 4-year-old and the Schneider brothers.
Joseph Schneider was sentenced to six years for child abuse, with three suspended, and he received a one-year suspended sentence for perverted practice. He has been held in lieu of bond at the county detention center since his arrest in January.
After the hearing -- and after the Schneider family had cleared the hallway -- defense attorney Grossfeld commented on the sentences.
He said he was "a little disappointed with Donald's sentence" because sentencing guidelines showed he should have been placed on probation with no jail time.
Of Joseph's sentence, Grossfeld said, "I think it's a reasonable sentence in view of all the circumstances."