Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dad gets 11 years for death of 5-week-old daughter (Vista, California)

Dad is identified as LEE TRAHAN.

Father gets 11 years in baby death case
Defendant, who said child's injury was accidental, faced 25 years to life in prison

By Dana Littlefield | 2:08 p.m. Aug. 18, 2015 | Updated, 4:13 p.m.

VISTA — A father convicted of manslaughter in the death of his infant daughter three years ago was sentenced Tuesday to 11 years in prison.

A jury found Lee Trahan, 28, of Escondido guilty in February of voluntary manslaughter and assault on a child for causing the injuries that killed daughter Willow in 2012. The panel acquitted him of a second-degree murder charge.

Trahan, a former Marine who was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, contended in trial that he had accidentally banged Willow’s head against a door frame early one morning as he bent over to pick up a pacifier while holding his 5-week-old baby.

The District Attorney’s Office contended that Willow died as a result of abuse.

During the sentencing hearing Tuesday, attorneys on both sides of the case appeared to be operating under an understanding that Vista Superior Court Judge Harry Elias had only two options when it came to sentencing the defendant under the assault charge: probation or 25 years to life in prison.

Trahan’s lawyer, Brian J. White, argued that his client wasn’t someone who needed to be removed from society. Instead, he said, Trahan was a loving father with no previous criminal record, who had the strong support of his family.

“This is not somebody who’s dangerous,” White said.

Deputy District Attorney Michelle Ialeggio said she did not believe Trahan was “a monster,” and conceded that Trahan felt remorse over what happened to his daughter. But, the prosecutor said, evidence showed the baby was injured more than once while in her father’s care, and that the parents hesitated to seek immediate medical help on April 24, 2012, the day Trahan said he inadvertently hit the baby’s head.

#“He made the decision to sit there and wait until her body gave out…,” Ialeggio said.

Defense lawyers said the parents waited because Willow’s condition improved, but Ialeggio said it was because one of the baby’s injuries — a bruise or skin discoloration on her abdomen — had already drawn the attention of Child Protective Services earlier that month and they didn’t want to alert authorities again. The prosecutor said text messages exchanged between the couple support that contention.

Willow was rushed to a hospital three days after the door frame incident, after she stopped breathing. She died 10 days later.

The judge said it was the delay in seeking medical aid that helped him conclude that probation was inappropriate in this case, but a potential life sentence would be inappropriate as well.

Acknowledging that the prosecution might challenge his decision on appeal, Elias chose to sentence Trahan to an 11-year term on the manslaughter charge, and grant probation for the assault. The probation term will expire when Trahan is released from prison on parole.

“Ethically, I believe I’m doing the right thing,” said the judge, who denied a defense motion for a new trial before ordering the sentence.

Trahan will have to serve 85 percent of his prison term. He has credit for more than three years in custody.

The prosecutor argued in trial that Trahan and his wife, Jessica, were overwhelmed by the demands of caring for Willow and her twin brother, who were born six weeks premature. Citing testimony from a deputy medical examiner, the prosecutor said the blunt-force injuries Willow suffered, including a skull fracture and bruising on the brain, were too severe to be accidental.

Jessica Trahan was convicted of misdemeanor child neglect for failing to seek medical attention for Willow right away. At a previous hearing, the judge placed her on probation for four years and ordered her to complete 200 hours of community service.

Outside the courtroom Tuesday, White said Trahan was a “devoted husband and father,” and that what happened to his family was a tragedy, but would never happen again.