JONESVILLE — A Southwest Virginia man arrested for seriously injuring his 2-month-old son last year pleaded guilty Monday to felony child abuse charges in Lee County court.
James Donald Woodard Jr., 34, of Pennington Gap, entered guilty pleas in Lee County Circuit Court to a single count of child abuse with serious injury and malicious wounding.
Woodard had been scheduled to stand trial Thursday but avoided facing a jury by entering his pleas at the beginning of the week.
Woodard is set to be sentenced on Jan. 21 by Circuit Court Judge Tammy McElyea. He faces up to 10 years in prison on the child abuse charge and a maximum sentence of five years in prison for malicious wounding.
Lee County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shawn Hines said his office is ready to move on to the next phase of the case.
“These are some of the most difficult cases we work on,” Hines said. “I have two young children myself, so it sort of personalizes the case and makes you sick to your stomach that any parent would do this to their child. It also puts a burden on you as a prosecutor because you want to make sure justice gets done. ... Thankfully this defendant entered guilty pleas to the charges and we will try to get justice at his sentencing hearing.”
Woodard’s charges stem from an incident that occurred Aug. 28, 2012, at the Pennington Gap residence he shared with the child’s mother, who was his girlfriend at the time.
According to Lee County authorities, the mother took the infant to the local emergency room for treatment after she returned home from work and observed him vomiting up food and exhibiting “seizure-like” symptoms. The child had been in Woodard’s care while his mother was at work, Hines said.
ER doctors reportedly determined the boy was suffering from head injuries consistent with abuse and subsequently had him transported to Knoxville for treatment at Children’s Hospital and the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
Doctors in Knoxville confirmed that the child was suffering from a cerebral hematoma and hemorrhaging in the eyes, Hines said.
“The child suffered no external injuries, they were only found internally, in the brain and skull,” Hines said. “That’s the sign that there was internal trauma consistent with shaking the child.”
Woodard was interviewed by investigators with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police as a result of those findings. Lee County Social Services also assisted with the investigation.
During the interview, Woodard reportedly told authorities that he was changing the child’s diaper when the infant rolled off the couch and became unresponsive. Woodard reportedly claimed that he shook the child “gently” to bring it to.
Woodard later tried to retract his admission to investigators, telling them he never shook the child, Hines said.
Hines said the child’s injuries were “inconsistent” with Woodard’s original version of events.
“He admitted that he shook the child, but he claimed that he was trying to wake the child up after it fell off the couch,” Hines said. “That is just completely inconsistent with logic and the evidence that doctors found through their examinations.”
Hines added: “The mother has been devastated since this occurred. When she learned that he had admitted to shaking the child she was just devastated.”