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Kingsport man sentenced to half-century for nearly killing newborn son

October 15th, 2011 12:32 am by Kacie Breeding

Kingsport man sentenced to half-century for nearly killing newborn son

Robert Eugene Crawford Jr.

A Kingsport man could spend half a century behind bars for nearly killing his 10-day-old son in 2008, slamming the newborn’s head against a concrete wall.

Robert Eugene Crawford Jr., 23, was sentenced Friday in Sullivan County Criminal Court to two consecutive 25-year prison terms for aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect. Although the law requires 100 percent service of the first 25 years, he will be eligible for parole consideration after 30 percent, about 7.5 years, of the second term. The jury that convicted Crawford in June had recommended $100,000 in fines, but the judge opted to reduce that to a single $5,000 fine.

During the trial, there was testimony that the infant suffered multiple skull fractures, with several extending to both sides of his head. There was bleeding in and around his brain, he suffered a stroke while in the hospital, and had to be placed on life support, and use a feeding tube at one point.

Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Nelson said the baby would have been in “substantial pain,” and there was a “substantial risk of death.” She said his injuries were deemed the apparent result of non-accidental blunt force trauma, with one medical expert likening the damage to what one might expect from a “severe car accident.”

The child’s foster mother testified in June that the child, now three years of age, endures hours of physical, occupational and speech therapy each week, according to trial testimony from his foster mother. She testified that his verbal skills are comparable to that of a 6- to 8-month-old child, and that his physical abilities are comparable to that of a 6-month-old as well, citing that he is still unable to feed himself on his own.

Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus argued the 50-year maximum was appropriate due to Crawford’s extensive criminal history and the circumstances of the case. He said the victim was “particularly vulnerable” due to his age, and argued Crawford’s actions constituted abuse of a position of trust, as he is the baby’s father.

With respect to the victim, Staubus contended, “He’ll never have a normal cognitive life,” adding that “his physical activities will be limited for life” as well.

“A long sentence is necessary to ensure he doesn’t hurt anybody, whether that’s a robbery, or a burglary or destroying the life of an innocent child,” he said.

One of Crawford’s attorneys, Ilya Berenshteyn, argued two concurrent 15-year sentences would be “more than enough.”

He asked the judge to consider that, at the time of the incident, Crawford was only about 20, and had just emerged from juvenile detention at age 18. “He’s been neglected all his life,” he said, noting that Crawford had been put in “a number of foster homes” before landing in juvenile detention.

“I do not think of my client as dangerous,” Berenshteyn added. “I think he is suffering from serious psychological issues.”

He disputed Staubus’ contention that Crawford had abused a position of trust, although he acknowledged that Crawford is the “baby’s daddy.”

Berenshteyn argued Crawford “was stressed” when the incident with his son occurred.

Sullivan County Criminal Court Judge Robert Montgomery disagreed with all of the mitigating factors Berenshteyn cited for his consideration.

Montgomery found that Crawford is a dangerous individual with an extensive history of criminal behavior.

In the pre-sentencing report, Crawford had admitted smoking a “half nickel” of marijuana every day from age 12 until he went into juvenile detention several years later, he noted. At the time of the incident involving his son, Crawford was out on bond on charges of attempt to commit aggravated robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and two counts of contributing to delinquency of a minor in connection with an incident at Wendy’s. He has since pleaded guilty to those charges. Crawford had also violated judicial diversion he received on charges of possession of a prohibited weapon and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

“I find an extended sentence is necessary to protect the public against further criminal conduct by the defendant,” Montgomery concluded.

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