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Light sentences for infant abuse? Absolutely not

Editorial Board • Mar 8, 2018 at 2:41 PM

Violence done to helpless infants turns our stomach, but so does perpetrators getting off with proverbial slaps on the wrist. Witness two recent local cases involving 2-month-olds.

A Scott County mother assaulted her infant son so severely he sustained 23 broken ribs, a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain, injuries systematic with shaken baby syndrome. The case against Summer S. Stallard, 21, was settled in January. She received a sentence of 20 years in prison, which was inadequate to the pain and injury she inflicted on her own son.

But she won’t even serve that — not even close — because 16 years of that sentence were suspended.

Her husband, Luke Aaron Stallard, 22, who stood by while the abuse occurred, was sentenced to 15 years in prison last month but will only serve a few months because most of that sentence — 13 years and five months — was suspended.

In both cases justice was denied, in one by the court and in the other by inadequate laws.

In Hawkins County, Eric Matthews, 32, of Surgoinsville was charged with Class A felony aggravated child abuse for inflicting multiple bone fractures to an infant. The crime carried a maximum sentence of 25 years, but Matthews was allowed to plead guilty to a reduced charge and must serve but 30 percent of that sentence before being eligible for early release.

If the case against Matthews was solid, why allow a plea to a reduced sentence? In the case against Summer Stallard, why such a lenient sentence? Scott County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marcus F. McClung said that although Stallard had no previous criminal record, she could have served up to 40 years behind bars.

“During the sentencing hearing, the court understood and agreed with our evidence; however, did not feel the way we did about the punishment,” said McClung.

And as to her husband, he reportedly cooperated in the case against his wife, testifying how she had abused their baby but also admitting he should have done more to protect the child. Nonetheless, the court cited state guidelines as to the reason for his light sentence.

“We were heartbroken by the decision in Summer’s case and disappointed that the guidelines were so low in Luke’s case,” said Dan Fellhauer, Scott County chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney.

We all are disappointed when those who beat children are given lenient sentences.

By way of comparison, a Southwest Virginia man was also sentenced last month for possessing child pornography. He got 12 years.

There is much wrong with our system of justice when someone with pictures of naked children gets more time in jail than someone who beats them nearly to death.

They both should serve decades, not just enough years that can be counted on one hand. Any less is a message that what the perpetrators did is only slightly less than OK with society.

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