Saturday, September 12, 2015

Dad pleads guilty to criminally negligent homicide in strangulation death of 13-month-old baby (Florence, Florida)

Dad is identified as JUSTIN MATTHEW GREEN.

Father pleads guilty in infant's death; Lauderdale man pleads in sexual abuse case

Posted: Friday, September 11, 2015 12:00 am
By Tom Smith Senior Staff Writer

FLORENCE — A Florence man pleaded guilty in the death of his 13-month-old baby Thursday, while another man pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in connection with the sexual abuse of a teenage girl.

During a plea hearing Thursday before Lauderdale County Circuit Judge Mike Jones, Justin Matthew Green, 26, 502 Mars Hill Road, Florence, pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in connection with the strangulation death of his child.

Pinkie Willard, 70, 4680 Lauderdale 36, Killen, who was indicted on charges of sexual abuse of a child under 12 and second-degree sexual abuse, pleaded to the lesser charge of third-degree assault.

Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly said both cases were scheduled for trial next week.

Agrees to plea

Green was arrested in July 2014 on charges of criminally negligent homicide. In November of that year, the grand jury upgraded the charges to manslaughter.

Criminally negligent homicide is a Class A misdemeanor and is punishable by up to a year in prison.

Jones said he will sentence Green at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 24.

Lauderdale County Assistant District Attorney Will Powell said Green entered the plea Thursday after discussions with the victim’s family.

Investigators said Green was living with the baby’s mother and her two other children, who were 4 and 6, when the death occurred.

During the hearing, Powell said on Aug. 7, 2013, Green was supposed to be watching the children. He said the baby was found in her crib with a cord from a toy remote control car wrapped around her neck.

“During the course of the investigation, no evidence was discovered to indicate the cord was intentionally put around the baby’s neck,” Powell said.

A preliminary autopsy noted the state medical examiner declared the cause of death as asphyxiation and the manner of death as “accident.”

“There is dispute on how the toy got in the crib,” Powell said. “We believe (Green) put the toy in the crib to stop the baby from crying. One of the children said they put the toy in the crib, but the child has told different stories to different people.

“At the end of the day, Green was the adult there at the time, and this happened on his watch. It was his job to watch the children. He was negligent, and the baby died.”

Green then admitted to Jones he was negligent.

“He did not put the toy in the crib, but we are here today to accept responsibility for being negligent,” his attorney Tony Hughes said.

The baby’s grandmother, Tammy Cole, who attended the hearing, said she believes Green put the toy in the baby’s crib.

“And only God will make me believe any different,” said Cole, who was noticeably upset with the plea.

“I don’t like this anymore than you do,” Powell said. “But as we have talked, under the circumstances, this is a result that has some consequences.”

Sexual abuse case

Willard was accused of inappropriately touching the girl, who was 13-14 at the time.

“This was done with much discussion with the victim’s family,” Powell told Jones. “Instead of having the victim go through the trial process, they ask you to accept the plea.”

As a part of the plea agreement, the charge of sexual abuse of a child under 12 was dismissed and Willard pleaded guilty to third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, the lesser offense than second-degree sexual abuse.

“The family felt putting the victim through the trial would do more harm than good,” Powell said.

“I understand that. Hopefully, this will be an answer to the family’s wishes,” Jones said.

The judge then sentenced Willard to 12 months in the county jail, which was suspended for two years. He was placed in the Lauderdale County Community Corrections Program for two years, and he must register as a sex offender and have no contact with the victim or her family.