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