YORK COUNTY, S.C. -- Curtis Sweatt, 28, stood in front of a packed courtroom Friday . . .
Sixteen months later, he still insists it was an accident. While wiping tears, he read a statement about the morning when he awoke to find Savannah with a dirty diaper and gave her a bath.
"I was in the process of beginning to dress her, and she slipped out of my hands and her head struck the pad, the changing pad," he said. “In my panic, I grabbed her and held her close to my chest and started rocking up and down."
Sweatt had first said that he was carrying the baby in a towel, and her neck snapped when he pulled the towel from beneath her head.
Later, they said, he changed his story, and said her head hit the changing table when she slipped from his arms. . . .
Curtis Sweatt was originally charged with homicide by child abuse, but in a plea deal, he pleaded guilty Friday to lesser charges of inflicting great bodily injury on a child and involuntary manslaughter. Out of a maximum possible sentence of 25 years, Burch sentenced Sweatt to 16 years.
He is not eligible for parole.
Family members on both sides of the tragedy spoke out in court Friday. Relatives of Sweatt said he loved his daughter and older son, Connor. He had no criminal record and was active in a local church.
Savannah's mother, Danielle Tucker, also spoke out.
"Curtis, you were my best friend, and the person I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with," she said. "Then you took all that away."
Maternal grandmother Wanda Tucker spoke through tears and sobs, telling Sweatt that he had destroyed their family.
"Curtis because of you, Savannah never made it to four months,” Tucker said. "I just want to wake up from this nightmare and not believe that things happened the way they did."
Sweatt's attorney asked for mercy, hoping to give him the chance to help raise his young son.
However, Burch didn't see it that way when he began sentencing.
"I have to say, the most important person in the world isn't in the room today, and that's your son," he said to Sweatt.
The judge said he would not allow Sweatt the opportunity to hurt his son, and that was part of the reason for handing down a long prison sentence.
After the hearing, family members told Eyewitness News they wanted Sweatt to receive the full sentence but that they were satisfied with the judge's decision.