The letter contained misspellings and bad grammar, but the emotion expressed by Theresa Harper rang true and clear, even if the thought behind it came too late to save her baby's life.
To her 22-month-old son, Paul Harper Jr., the incarcerated mother said, "I am so very very sorry."
It was his father – her husband – who beat the boy to death in their Del Paso Heights apartment. On Friday, Theresa Harper, 26, paid for her failure to protect when Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White handed her a 15-to-life prison term.
Paul Harper Sr., 31, like his wife, pleaded no contest May 29 to second-degree murder in the Aug. 20, 2009, killing. Harper told police he slugged his son in the head because he thought the little boy was "mean mugging" him – shooting him dirty looks. The toddler prompted the standoff by refusing to eat his lunch.
The calendar called for Paul Harper to be sentenced Friday, too. But when he was brought into the courtroom, he asked to withdraw his plea and fire his lawyer, Kenneth L. Rosenfeld.
Following a closed hearing, Harper Sr. decided to stay the course. He will be sentenced Aug. 31. Rosenfeld remained on the case.
"People taking a significant amount of medicine for mental conditions, they tend to have mindsets that ebb and flow," Rosenfeld said outside court. "Today is an ebb. Tomorrow might be a flow."
Police and prosecutors said Harper Sr. assaulted his boy when the defendant admittedly got the impression his son was trying to act like the man of the house.
"I told him to stop acting like you('re) running things," Harper told police. Then, "I popped him in the side with my knuckles." Then he hit him again.
The coroner said Paul Jr. died of blunt head injuries and "battered child syndrome" leading to fatal aspiration.
In comments to her dead son she put in her letter to the court, Theresa Harper said she was "so scared of your father." She said she should have protected him "like a real mother is supposed to do."
"If I did," she wrote, "you (would) still be alive."
She said "there is no excuse good enough in this world for not protecting my baby."
She said she took full responsibility for the death. She apologized to the rest of her family "for not listening to you guys when you said I should have divorced him because he is no good."
She said she is glad her three other kids, who have been placed in other homes by Child Protective Services, are safe.
Theresa Harper's lawyer, Karol Martin Repkow, said her client "was abused herself, throughout her whole childhood. Abused. Neglected. Abandoned. This is what she knows, to get together with people who are abusive."
"Both Ms. Harper and Mr. Harper were responsible for the death of their child," Ore said. "Ms. Harper appropriately accepted that responsibility. While Mr. Harper inflicted the physical injuries to the child, a mother has a duty to protect her children."