Monday, November 15, 2010

Dad gets 15 years in prison for fatally shaking 3-month-old daughter (Arlington, Texas)

Dad MICHAEL VICTORIA JR. has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for his fatal assault on his crying 3-month-old daughter. Notice once again, that "shaking" isn't necessarily an "accident," but rather an often fatal part of an overall assault or pattern of abuse. This baby had multiple fractures in addition to her brain injuries.

Arlington man gets 15 years in prison for fatally shaking baby
Posted Friday, Nov. 12, 2010

By Martha Deller

FORT WORTH -- A 26-year-old father of three was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison for shaking his crying baby daughter so hard that she died.

As the trial began Wednesday, Michael Victoria Jr. pleaded guilty to knowingly causing serious bodily injury to his 3-month-old daughter, Trinity, on Jan. 28, 2009. He asked the nine-woman, three-man jury to decide his punishment, which could range from five to 99 years or life in prison.

Victoria was eligible for probation because he had no prior felony convictions. He had never gotten into trouble with gangs, drugs or the law, and, according to his family and co-workers, was a good father who worked hard to support his three children.

Victoria's attorney Leon Haley asked jurors to grant him probation or no more than five years in prison.

Jurors deliberated nearly eight hours over two days before recommending the 15-year sentence.
After a day of testimony from police, medical personnel, Victoria and his family, jurors deliberated all day Thursday and Friday morning before returning the verdict. State District Judge Scott Wisch imposed the sentence.

Victoria's relatives kept their emotions in check as the verdict was announced. Afterward, they gathered in the hall, crying and hugging each other and Haley's co-counsel, Mary Panzu. They declined to comment.

As the verdict was read, Victoria blinked back tears, then reached out and touched Panzu's hand as she fought to keep her composure.

"That's one of the most impressive things I've seen you do," Wisch said. "You showed that you thought of her instead of yourself."

Haley had left the trial to attend to a case in federal court and was not present for the verdict. He said later that he understood the jury's struggle to give Victoria a fair sentence.

"I want parents to know if you're tired and frustrated while handling your baby, take the time to step away 15 to 20 minutes," Haley said.

'It's all my fault'

During closing arguments Thursday, Haley and Panzu asked jurors to consider Victoria's entire life, not just the one moment when he became frustrated with his crying daughter and shook her harder than he intended. That moment, which his relatives insisted was an accident, changed his life forever, Haley said.

But prosecutors Eric Nickols and Rainey Webb said Trinity's death was not an accident. They said Victoria lied to police, medical personnel and the baby's mother for more than a day about what he did. Even then, he minimized what he did, they said.
Nickols told jurors that anything less than 20 years in prison was "unconscionable."

Afterward, Nickols said he knows jurors worked hard to reach a verdict.

"I know this was not an easy decision for the jury," he said. "There are no winners in cases like this."

Victoria testified that his girlfriend was the primary caregiver for their baby, but that he frequently fed, diapered and played with Trinity.

That day, however, Victoria said his daughter threw up her formula and wouldn't stop crying. He said he shook her to calm her down. Instead, the baby went limp and quit breathing.

A paramedic testified that the baby appeared to be dead when she was rushed to an Arlington hospital, then transferred to Cook Children's Medical Center. A pediatrician there said she died 17 days later of brain injuries.

"It's all my fault," Victoria testified. "I was just trying to calm her down. She was yelling and I shook her too hard."

But detectives testified that Victoria's admission came only after telling several versions of how the baby was injured.

As the baby lay dying in the intensive care unit at Cook's, Detective Margie Almy said Victoria continued to insist that, at most, he rocked Trinity up and down to calm her down.

Even after he admitted shaking his baby, he downplayed how hard he shook her. In a videotaped police interview and later with a doll in the courtroom, he said he shook her gently up and down.

But the doctor who treated Trinity and a child abuse specialist testified that only violent shaking -- not gentle shaking like Victoria demonstrated -- could have caused the brain injuries that killed her.

Cook's pediatrician Jay Duncan said that Trinity also had retinal bleeding, fractured rib, arms and legs and a previous brain injury. He said any of those injuries could have been caused by shaking.

Duncan and child abuse pediatrician Sophia Grant said a 2- to 3-month-old infant could not have rolled off a bed as Victoria and his girlfriend described. Even if she did, they said, she would not have been injured seriously by that or her toddler brother hitting her with a toy, they said.

Martha Deller, 817-390-7857

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