Woman who pleaded guilty in son's death is resentenced

Judge lets original term stand

November 14, 2010|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

Joshua Watson would have been 6 years old on Dec. 1 if he'd survived the beatings that began soon after he was born. But he never even made it to his first birthday.

He was pronounced dead on New Year's Day 2005, when he was just 1 month old — a homicide by blunt force trauma. His tiny body was covered with 27 separate contusions: skull fractures, welts, cracked ribs and a broken femur.

His mother, Tanea Bullock, eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and child abuse resulting in death, and she was sentenced to 20 years in prison. But last week, her lawyer argued before a Baltimore judge that the term was unfair and raised questions about her guilt.

"A 20-year sentence is just excessive," said lawyer Michael Patrick Lytle. "Clearly this crime was tragic … but there's something that doesn't add up. This is not a first-degree-murder case."

Lytle and prosecutor Julie Drake sparred for an hour in Baltimore Circuit Court about the term Bullock deserved during a rare resentencing hearing, which was granted after a judge determined that the original sentence, given in 2007, was irregular.

Drake highlighted the seriousness of the crime, while Lytle raised alternative explanations for the death, including that she didn't do it, or that she was having a psychotic episode when it occurred.

"It seems to me that's something germane to" the question of "how much punishment does she get," Lytle said.

Bullock, now 26, has a long history of mental illness, going back to her childhood. She has thought about killing her abusive mother, attempted suicide and been diagnosed with depression.

Yet her family says she was a nurturing caretaker while growing up, often looking out for her youngest siblings, who were neglected by their drug-addicted mother, now in recovery. Bullock has no previous criminal record, and corrections officials say she's a model prisoner, according to her lawyer.

"She's such a humble and meek person that she wouldn't hurt a fly. … She loves all life forms," her brother, Michael Brockington, told the court. "This is not her. This is not her character. It's not in her demeanor."

Lytle quoted from a doctor's report saying Joshua's father, who received a time-served sentence after pleading guilty to reckless endangerment, was the "more likely perpetrator."

Drake balked at the suggestion.

"He's trying to make an argument, albeit under the table, that the court should not be looking at her as a guilty party," Drake said, leading Judge Emanuel Brown to later remind everyone that Bullock herself pleaded guilty.

Drake arranged for Bullock to be transferred to the Patuxent Institution treatment facility to serve the remainder of her term, provided it wasn't shortened.

"Nobody disagrees that this woman is seriously mentally ill," Drake said.

Bullock also addressed the court.

"Every day, I am sorry about what happened to my son," she said. "It was made aware to me a few years ago that I was not responsible for my son's death … but I do know I wasn't the best mother."

"I'm not saying this to sway your decision," she added. "It's just time that a lot of these things came right."

After a long pause to review the record, and to wonder aloud "whether Joshua experienced one day of painfree existence," Brown handed down his sentence.

It was identical to Bullock's original sentence.


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