Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dad pleads guilty to assaulting infant son (Clark County, Washington)

Dad is identified as JOHN I. STERNERSEN.

Father pleads guilty to assault on infant son
Agreement means no prison time, but contact still limited

By Paris Achen
Columbian Staff Reporter

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A 30-year-old Battle Ground father was sentenced Tuesday to 30 days in jail for assaulting his infant son last year after the baby didn't stop crying.

John I. Stenersen pleaded guilty in Clark County Superior Court to one count of third-degree assault of a child in exchange for a reduced charge.

He initially was charged with second-degree assault of child, which comes with a sentencing range of 31 to 41 months in prison.

During preparation for a trial, the prosecution and defense amassed more than 600 pages of medical records. The records refuted an initial finding that the baby had a fractured skull from the Feb. 9, 2012, assault, said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Alan Harvey. The records showed that the baby had a hematoma, or a blood clot, but there were doubts about whether the evidence could prove that the hematoma resulted from the assault rather than some earlier event, Harvey said.

The now-18-month-old Carter has fully recovered and is doing well, his mother said.

Restrictions continued 

Judge John Nichols also required that Stenersen serve 15 days on a work crew and maintained tight restrictions on visitation with Carter. Visits must be supervised by another adult, and overnight stays are prohibited for at least another six months. Stenersen's attorney, Gerald Wear, had asked for the judge to remove the restrictions. He said his client had completed parenting classes and anger management treatment while his case was pending. Stenersen has passed through that therapy and visits with his son with "flying colors," Wear said.

"I don't think we need to keep the family apart any longer," Wear said.

The restrictions have prevented Stenersen from living in the family home with his wife and newborn daughter since he was charged 14 months ago, Wear said. He declined to say where Stenersen has been staying.

Stenersen's wife began weeping when the judge ruled on the visitation restrictions. Several other family members also were at the sentencing hearing to support Stenersen.

"I was impressed you went through all the treatment," Nichols said. "This is monumental. A lot of people in your situation will not admit there is a problem."

But Nichols said the safety of the child is paramount. He said he would reconsider the visitation restrictions in six months.

The attack

Battle Ground police said Stenersen was watching Carter on Feb. 9, 2012, at the family home in the 600 block of Southwest Second Court when, Stenersen said, he "snapped" because the baby was crying. He allegedly shoved the baby, who was lying on the bedroom floor, causing Carter to hit his head on a wall.

Then, after Stenersen prepared food for his son, he said, he threw the fussy infant in the air and the baby's head fell backward as he landed in Stenersen's lap, according to a probable cause affidavit.

He called his wife by telephone, telling her he was upset and had dropped the infant. Stenersen said the baby was not responsive.

Battle Ground police and paramedics were called to the home at 9:30 p.m. to treat the baby. Carter was rushed to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center and later transported to Randall Children's Hospital at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.

In an interview with investigators, Stenersen said he "didn't know why I would do such a thing," according to court documents. "He's always smiling. … I'm scared. I don't know what's going to happen."

During the interview, he also reportedly said that he was afraid the baby could die and confessed that he had shaken the baby before he tossed him in the air, according to the probable cause affidavit.

Wear said Stenersen has a low IQ. He said his client previously lacked the skills required to handle a baby of that age. Carter is his firstborn.