Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dad sentenced to 16 year in prison for killing 2-month-old daughter (Rockland, Maine)

Dad ROBERT E. HARTFORD JR. has been convicted of domestic violence manslaughter in the death of his 2-month-old daughter, and will spend 16 years in prison. The baby died from blunt force trauma to the head after Daddy threw her to the ground. Despite all that, you still have all these folks claiming Dad was a "caring, gentle individual." Delusion is a wonderful thing, yes?

Rockland dad gets 16 years in baby death

By Abigail Curtis
BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — Robert E. Harford Jr., of Rockland, was sentenced Tuesday to spend 16 years behind bars for killing his 2-month-old daughter, Ava Harford, in August 2008.

The proceedings at Knox County Superior Court were disrupted during the morning by an angry outburst from one of Ava’s relatives.

“[Expletive] murderer! [Expletive] murderer!” Justin Gushee shouted at Harford and jumped up from his seat in the courthouse gallery. He appeared to try to move toward Harford before he was escorted from the courtroom by armed bailiffs.

Ava, just 2 months old in August 2008, died of blunt-force trauma to the head after Harford threw her to the ground.

He pleaded guilty in October 2009 to domestic violence manslaughter. A murder charge was dismissed.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm on Tuesday afternoon sentenced Harford, who was 24 at the time of his daughter’s death, to 25 years with all but 16 suspended. He will be on probation for six years after his release from custody, the justice said.

Defense attorney Steven Peterson had asked for a sentence of 10 years, and Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea had recommended a sentence of 20 years with all but 17 years suspended.
Hjelm hastily left the courtroom after Gushee’s outburst, and the court took an unexpected recess of about 15 minutes.

“The incident that just occurred should serve as a profound reminder to us of why the court system was founded in the first place,” Hjelm said after reconvening the hearing. “To avoid exactly the type of vigilante response we saw a moment ago.”

Before Gushee jumped up to shout at Harford, he had spoken on behalf of Ava Harford, and her mother, Kirby Hayhurst. Gushee, is Hayhurst’s cousin.

“I can’t give justice,” he told Hjelm. “I have to depend on you to provide justice for my family. I hope that you will.”

Immediately after Gushee spoke, Hayhurst stood up to read a letter to the court.

“The last memory I will have embedded of my little angel is of her lifeless body,” she said. “Time will not heal the wounds or the pain I am experiencing.”

On Aug. 17, 2008, Harford and Hayhurst — then known by her maiden name of Gushee — lived together in a home on New County Road in Rockland. Hayhurst was working in the maintenance department of the Samoset Resort that day, and Harford was home alone with the baby.

Originally, Harford said that he accidentally dropped the baby from a standing position when he picked her up for an evening feeding. But on Aug. 20, he admitted to police detectives that he had, in fact, thrown her to the floor.

“[Harford] acknowledged that he threw Ava. As he threw her to the ground, he believed she hit the side of the refrigerator,” Zainea said in October.

The violence that evening seemed completely out of character to Harford’s family and friends, many of whom spoke to the court Tuesday about his gentle, generous nature, his strong Christian upbringing and his patience with children.

“I watched B.J. jump to shovel driveways for elderly and disabled people. I raised my children to have kind and forgiving hearts,” his mother, Denise Pelletier, told the court. “I watched my son cut [Ava’s] umbilical cord. ... He was really learning, and attaching and caring for his child.”

As Pelletier spoke, Harford sat with his head down, tears dripping onto his clasped hands. He quietly wept through much of the rest of the parade of character testimonials from people who asked the court for a lenient sentence.

Retired teacher Sue Thurston pleaded for mercy for a young life “that still has value.”

Longtime friend Ashley Carlton said she still would trust Harford with her 4-year-old child.

“I believe what happened that day was nothing more than a horrible accident,” she said.

Then the 25-year-old Harford walked haltingly to the lectern on shackled legs and spoke in a broken voice.

“Ava Renee Harford. So beautiful. So full of life. So full of potential,” he said. “I wish I could make you all understand how much I truly miss her. How much I love her. I would have traded places with her 10,000 times if possible. I always would have given my life.”

As Harford spoke, Kirby Hayhurst shook her head in apparent anger.

“I’m so ashamed of myself,” Harford went on. “I hurt so many people, and I’m sorry for that.”

Before announcing the sentence, Justice Hjelm said there would be no winners in the courtroom.

“Nobody will be happy, or satisfied or gratified,” he said. “This is a very human case. It’s human because it involves the unnecessary death of a 2-month-old infant at the hands of her father. Mr. Harford is also a human who has demonstrated a capacity of being a caring, gentle individual.”

Hjelm said that although Harford’s family support was a “powerful mitigating factor,” he nonetheless received a longer sentence because, despite his capacity to nurture, he did not do so with Ava on Aug. 17, 2008.

“It’s the tragic paradox,” Hjelm said.

Peterson said his client will give “serious consideration” to appealing the sentence. With time off for good behavior and counting time already served in Knox County Jail, it is likely that Harford will be released from the state’s custody in a decade, he said.

Kirby Hayhurst, who has moved to Tennessee, married and is studying occupational therapy, said she was glad the court process is over.

“Nothing will ever bring her back,” she said after the hearing. “I just wanted [Harford] to go to the prison. He’ll get his punishment.”

No charges were brought against Justin Gushee after the outburst in the courtroom, Deputy Wally Tower of the Rockland Police Department said Tuesday afternoon.