Man gets 30-year term in fatal beating of son, 3

`Murder by child abuse' prosecution was first in Anne Arundel

September 29, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

A 22-year-old Laurel man found guilty in the fatal beating of his 3-year-old son was sentenced to 30 years in prison yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

Rodney Lamar Dickerson Sr., of the 3400 block of Andrew Court, was convicted by a jury July 19 on charges of second-degree murder and murder by child abuse in the death of his son, Rodney Lamar Dickerson Jr.

It was the county's first prosecution of a "murder by child abuse" case.

Weighing just 43 pounds, Rodney Jr. was so severely beaten in August of last year that his liver was nearly split in half, and his abdomen and chest were too filled with blood for him to breathe, a medical expert testified during the July trial.

Dickerson and his live-in girlfriend, Mary Jane Pfister, the mother of his second son, blamed each other for Rodney Jr.'s death at trial.

"He's shown no remorse, and he has refused to take any responsibility for his actions in killing this child," Assistant State's Attorney M. Virginia Miles said yesterday as she argued for a 60-year sentence for Dickerson. "He is a danger to society. We abhor this kind of crime more than anything else, and we should."

Before sentencing yesterday, Dickerson, choked up with emotion, acknowledged that he had slapped his son two weeks before the beating in August beating, but maintained that he did not kill the toddler. He implored Circuit Judge Clayton Greene Jr. to show leniency.

"Your honor, I loved him. No doubt about it," said Dickerson, tears streaming from behind his glasses. "My method of discipline I now see was wrong. Punish me for that, but not for killing my son."

Said Dickerson, "I've lost everything a man could lose: my freedom, my job, my son. Of all those things, I cherished the love of my son the most."

After listening to Dickerson's remarks, Judge Greene said the case raised a philosophical question that the court could not answer: "Why do people hurt those that they love?"

"Looking at the defendant, it is unbelievable that he would commit such a horrible crime," Greene said about Dickerson, a former Navy cryptologic technician. "I sense a twisted sense of discipline, a twisted sense of what's appropriate and not appropriate in disciplining a child."

Recalling from trial that the toddler's trauma was analogous to being run over by a tractor-trailer, Greene then ordered Dickerson to serve 30 years in prison on each of his two convictions, with the sentences to run concurrently.

The judge agreed to a defense request to ask corrections officials to evaluate Dickerson for the Patuxent Institute Youth Program, a Howard County facility targeted at youthful offenders who seem amenable to psychiatric treatment.

Dickerson's mother, Alice Mallory, shook her head in disbelief at Greene's sentence.

"The whole thing is a bad mistake," she said. "God is not through with it. The truth is going to come out one day."

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