NEWTON — Some reporters' questions to Richard Hill on Thursday focused on whether he was satisfied with the 20-year sentence that Chad Carr could get.
Hill spoke to reporters after Carr pleaded guilty, under a plea agreement, to second-degree murder and other crimes in the death of Hill's 19-month old son, Vincent. Carr was the live-in boyfriend of Vincent's mother.
It really doesn't matter whether the sentence is 20 years or 50 years, Hill answered. What matters to him, he said, is his son is gone.
"I'm still not going to be able to watch my boy grow up ... go to prom ... throw his first baseball," said Hill, 24.
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One thing should come from the tragedy, Hill said.
"I want his life — it was short ... I want it to mean more," he said of his son.
Hill said he hopes to help make people aware of child abuse and how common it is. It seems like there is more awareness of other issues, like animal abuse, he said, which has its own commercial spots.
"Why aren't there commercials about child abuse?" Hill asked.
Carr, who faced charges that included first-degree murder, pleaded guilty Thursday to second-degree murder, three counts of aggravated battery and one count of child abuse.
Although the agreement calls for Carr to serve a 20-year sentence, it is up to Judge Richard Walker to determine the sentence. Walker set a sentencing hearing for Jan. 17 in Harvey County District Court.
If Carr had been convicted of first-degree murder, as originally charged, he could have faced a life sentence and been considered for parole after 25 years, said Harvey County Attorney David Yoder.
But Yoder said he concluded — after weighing the risks and after speaking with Vincent's family and law enforcement — that he didn't want to face a chance that a jury might convict Carr of lesser crimes that would bring a shorter sentence than 20 years.
"It's better to take the certain thing," Yoder said of the plea agreement. If the judge approves the sentencing recommendation, Carr, now 28, would be in prison into his 40s, Yoder said.
At the time of Vincent's death in March 2010, Carr was the live-in boyfriend of Vincent's mother and had been caring for the boy.
Hill, Vincent's father, said that at one point Carr had been his friend and co-worker.
In court Thursday, when the judge asked Yoder to provide a factual basis for the charges, Yoder said the toddler had injuries across his body and face, including a broken leg and broken collar bone. He said that evidence suggested Vincent could have suffocated and that Carr inflicted multiple blows.
Under the second-degree murder charge that Carr pleaded guilty to, the death was "unintentional but reckless" and done with "extreme indifference to the value of human life," Yoder said.
Carr admitted that to stop the 19-month-old from crying, he twisted the boy's arms behind him, stuffed a cloth in his mouth and pinched his nose, Yoder said in court.
After the hearing, Yoder said it's the most brutal child abuse death he has dealt with as a prosecutor.
"This case has given me many sleepless nights," he said.
North Newton Police Chief Ray Classen said he was satisfied with the outcome, but noted the toll the crime has taken: It is the first homicide since North Newton was incorporated in 1938, "and hopefully the last," Classen said, choking back tears.
There were signs of trouble at the North Newton duplex where Vincent lived before he died.
More than two months before he suffered the fatal injuries, the state child welfare agency received a report from a neighbor who heard a man yelling at the boy followed by the child screaming.
But the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services found no indication that the child had been physically or emotionally harmed, an SRS report said. SRS did not inform local law enforcement agencies of the report, which was upsetting and frustrating because officers could have checked it out, Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said days after Vincent died.
After the death, law enforcement investigators found the boy's mother, Katheryn Nycole Dale, complicit in the abuse he suffered. She pleaded no contest to child abuse and aggravated child endangerment and was sentenced to more than three years in prison.