As the prosecution displayed photos of 11-month-old Kweli Dupri Thomas' small, bruised body, Brandon T. Black looked around the courtroom and up at the decorated ceiling, anywhere but the screen.
Black, 27, of the 1400 block of Hugh Street, was sentenced Friday by Allen Superior Court Judge John F. Surbeck to 50 years for the neglect of Thomas that caused the boy's death in September while in Black's care.
The photos of Thomas, along with testimony by Dr. Pramod Carpenter and Black's criminal history, weighed heavily on Surbeck's decision for the length of the sentence, he said during the hearing. The prosecution requested a 45-year sentence.
Black maintains that he did not put his hands on the child and a fall down the stairs caused the boy's injuries. However, Carpenter, who performed Thomas's autopsy, said the young boy had sustained extensive injuries caused by multiple blunt-force traumas. Thomas had bruising on his chest and abdomen consistent with knuckles or fingertips, Carpenter said. He also reported the boy had some internal bleeding and fractured ribs.
The blow that caused the boy's death was a skull fracture and bleeding of the brain caused by trauma so forceful it separated and moved the bones of the boy's skull. Carpenter said “considerable force” was required to cause this type of injury, such as an automobile accident or if someone were to “spike” the boy's head against a hard object.
Black was originally charged with neglect and battery, both Class A felonies. He pleaded guilty to neglect in May, and the battery charge was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
Black's aunt testified on his behalf saying he was a good father to his own two children. She said he had a hard childhood, bouncing around in foster homes after his mother's murder when he was 6 years old.
“I've been in this child's life since he was 2 weeks old. I love my kids; I've loved every kid I've cared for,” he said. “If I could change what happened I would, but I can't.”
In the end, Surbeck said Black's “significant criminal history,” including a robbery conviction and a juvenile criminal record, and Carpenter's testimony that it was unlikely that the trauma to Thomas was caused by a fall down the stairs outweighed Black's rough childhood, education and degree attainment.
Surbeck sentenced Black to serve 40 of the 50 years in prison, 10 suspended and five served on probation. He'll get credit for 204 days in jail.