Man convicted in baby's death sentenced to life

June 08, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- A Jefferson County judge on Monday, following tearful pleas from the mother and other relatives of 2-month-old Colton Lee James, sentenced Michael Todd Cox, the tot's convicted killer, to life in prison.

Cox, 41, of Germantown, Md., was sentenced to life with mercy under West Virginia's three-strikes rule.

He was convicted by a Jefferson County jury in March of child abuse by a custodian causing the death of Colton in December 2007.

Cox became eligible for the stronger sentence because of prior convictions in Maryland. Among them was a manslaughter conviction in 1992, in a case similar to Colton's, that caused the death of 11-month-old Amber Koehler. Like Colton, Amber died from blunt-force trauma to the head while in Cox's care.

Colton's mother, Kathy James Carper, in an impassioned plea, told Judge David H. Sanders Monday that her son "didn't deserve this. I'd like some answers, closure for my son," she said, stopping often to compose herself.


"I'd like that man (Cox) to spend the rest of his life in jail so he won't be able to put another family through what he put my family through. My baby would have been 20 months old last Thursday," Carper said.

Melinda Moser, Amber's mother, told the judge that she too has had to deal with the pain of the loss of her baby and "unanswered questions after 16 years. He (Cox) took my baby's life. He should never be near another child again."

Carper and Moser had been romantically involved with Cox at the time their babies died, according to witnesses Monday.

Brandon "Brandy" Sims, assistant Jefferson County prosecutor, called the babies' deaths the "most heinous" crimes. In both cases the victims were "innocent, defenseless children" who suffered massive head injuries in the few short hours they were left with Cox, she said in arguing for the stronger sentence.

Sims called Rebecca James-Muth, who read a letter on behalf of Colton's family, asking for a life sentence for Cox.

"It would be so easy to wish revenge from the nightmare we have endured since Colton's death. The nightmare is with Colton's mommy, from the time she first wakes up and realizes that instead of being greeted with the blessed sound of hungry cries or cooing smiles, she'll have only silence.

"There are many extended family members and close family friends who also grieve the loss of this precious little boy," James-Muth read from her letter.

"For whatever reason, when Michael Cox becomes responsible for small children, even for short periods of time, tragedy strikes. It's important that Michael Cox spend the rest of his life behind bars," James-Muth read.

Conviction on Colton's death, without the prior convictions, could have netted Cox a 10- to 40-year prison term with parole eligibility in 10 years.

Life with mercy means he won't be eligible for parole for 15 years with no guarantee he will ever get out of prison. One court official said Monday it's unlikely Cox will get parole.

In addition to Amber's death, Sims noted two prior Maryland convictions against Cox, for burglary and assault, either of which validates the state's three-strikes rule.

When it was his turn to address the court, Cox expressed "his deepest sympathy" to the family for the "tragic loss of one of God's children." In the next breath, he proclaimed his "absolute innocence," saying he was "disturbed to understand what truly happened that day."

Cox said when he last saw Colton, the baby was alive and awake, and had no sign of trauma.

In a related incident Monday, officers removed Elizabeth Christine Hottel from the courtroom in handcuffs following Cox's sentencing after she aggressively approached Colton's family members as they were walking out.

Hottel, 28, of 209 Vista Court, Charles Town, was charged with contempt of court and disorderly conduct, police said.


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