Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Custodial dad gets 20 years for murder of 5-year-old daughter (Muncie, Indiana)

We've reported on this case several times over the past few years, and the utter judicial travesty that allowed this POS of a father to gain custody.

Dad is identified as RYAN MCCONNIEL.


Weeping dad draws maximum term in Lauren's death

Mar 5, 2013

Written by Douglas Walker


Key players in the Lauren McConniel tragedy

Lauren McConniel, 5: Lauren lived in Muncie with her father, Ryan McConniel, stepmother Brittany McConniel, and Brittany’s family from August 2009 to March 2010. Authorities said the child was severely abused and neglected during that time period, eventually dying in an Indianapolis hospital — three years ago this Saturday — after she was brought there emaciated and comatose, and after apparently ingesting a fatal amount of salt.

Ryan N. McConniel, 36: Father of Lauren McConniel. Ryan was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison for his role in the neglect, abuse and death of 5-year-old Lauren. He struck a plea deal with prosecutors in 2011, providing statements that led to the convictions of his now-ex-wife and her family.

Brittany McConniel, 27: Then-wife of Ryan McConniel and stepmother of Lauren McConniel. Considered the main perpetrator of the child’s abuse and neglect, Brittany received the harshest sentence, 50 years in prison, in August 2011 after a jury found her guilty of neglect of a dependent resulting in death. Brittany and Ryan McConniel have since divorced.

Robert E. Lee, 46: Stepfather of Brittany McConniel and step-grandfather to Lauren, he lived in the South Ebright Street house with the McConniels, his wife and their daughter Samra. Co-defendants said Lee, accused of molesting his stepdaughter years earlier, suggested many of the methods used to punish Lauren. He was sentenced last June to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to aiding, assisting or causing neglect of a dependent resulting in death.

Angela Lee, 47: Britanny’s mother and wife of Robert E. Lee, Angela was charged with aiding, inducing or causing neglect of a dependent resulting in death, a Class A felony that carries a maximum 50-year sentence. Under a plea agreement, she was sentenced Monday to 30 years.

Samra Lee, 22: Sister to Brittany McConniel and daughter of Robert E. and Angela Lee. Samra pleaded guilty to aiding, inducing or causing neglect of a dependent, and last October received a sentence of two years.

MUNCIE — Five days shy of the third anniversary of their daughter’s death, Lauren McConniel’s parents had a showdown Monday afternoon in Delaware Circuit Court 5.

Ryan McConniel, now 36, spent most of a 90-minute hearing weeping — before and after he received a 20-year prison term for his role in the abuse, neglect and death of his daughter, who was 5 when she died on March 9, 2010.

His ex-wife, Amber Huggins, recalled that she once loved McConniel, but said in the wake of their daughter’s death, she felt nothing but “pure disdain, disgust and hatred” for her former spouse, who sat sobbing about 10 feet from her, his face for several minutes planted on top of his left arm.

“Daddies are supposed to be a little girl’s king, her protector,” Huggins said. “Ryan, however, was Lauren’s nightmare.”

At that hearing — and a Monday morning hearing that saw Delaware Circuit Court 5 Judge Thomas Cannon Jr. sentence McConniel’s former mother-in-law, Angela Lee, to 30 years in prison — prosecutors recounted how Ryan McConniel, at the urging of his in-laws, took custody of Lauren in August 2009, motivated by the anticipation it would lead to their household receiving child-support payments.

For the next seven months, Lauren was brutally punished and starved, largely by McConniel’s then-wife, Brittany, and her own stepfather, Robert E. Lee. Emaciated and comatose by the time she was brought to an Indianapolis hospital, the child would never regain consciousness.

Ryan McConniel struck a deal with prosecutors in 2011, pleading guilty to a neglect charge that carried a maximum 20-year sentence, and giving authorities the statements needed to convict his wife, her mother and stepfather and their other daughter in Lauren’s death.

Calling her ex-husband “cowardly pathetic,” Amber Huggins said her surviving children “are the only reason Ryan and his family of monsters are alive.”

“I will love her until my last breath,” Huggins tearfully said of Lauren. She lost custody of her daughter in an Arkansas court hearing in which she didn’t have legal representation. During the girl’s months in Muncie, Huggins made futile attempts to find her daughter for visits, not seeing her again until she lay dying in the hospital.

Delaware County Prosecutor Jeffrey Arnold called McConniel “the most gutless, empty father and human being that I’ve ever seen.”

He also said he would “go to my grave wondering if I did the right thing” in negotiating a plea bargain with McConniel in order to secure the other convictions.

Arnold’s chief trial deputy, Eric Hoffman, called McConniel a “spineless wimp,” noting his claims he failed to protect Lauren from his wife and her family because he was physically intimidated by them.

“It’s truly pathetic that all of us in the courtroom have more compassion for a child that we never met than her own father,” Hoffman said.

Public defender John Brooke said he couldn’t argue his client wasn’t “the person most responsible” for Lauren’s fate. He asked the judge to impose a “fair and appropriate sentence,” saying McConniel’s fear of his co-defendants was “not an excuse” but a “fact of life.”

For his part, a sobbing McConniel offered his apologies to “my children, and the Lord, and to Amber and her family.”

“I guess I am just a worthless father like they said,” he told the judge. “But I did try to protect her and help her. But I didn’t do enough.”

In issuing the 20-year sentence, Judge Cannon noted McConniel’s “depraved indifference” to what was happening to his child.

At the earlier sentencing hearing for Angela Lee, Huggins said her daughter’s months with the McConniels and Lees were spent “in terror, in fear, in pain, in horror, in hunger.”

Hoffman noted it was Lee’s idea for Ryan McConniel to take custody of Lauren in pursuit of child support to help finance their household.

“God forbid she get a job!” Hoffman said. “She hasn’t worked since 1996.”

He also noted Lee had indicated she hadn’t interceded on Lauren’s behalf because she was “too busy on the computer talking to men on the Internet.”

Arnold called Lee and her co-defendants “truly worthless.”

“Are you listening to me, Mrs. Lee?” Arnold asked loudly, drawing an admonition from Cannon to address his comments to the bench.

Defense attorney Kelly Bryan asked the judge to consider his client’s troubled childhood, alleged abuse inflicted by her husband and a psychologist’s diagnosis of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

A tearful Lee — who will join her husband and two daughters in the state prison system — asked for “mercy” and “forgiveness.”

The 30-year sentence she received was also the maximum allowed under the terms of a plea agreement.

“It’s hard to imagine that in 2010, when this century was barely starting, we were dealing in Delaware County with what has to be the crime of the century,” Cannon said at the conclusion of that hearing.