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Martinsburg man sentenced to 3 to 15 years for child abuse

Alfonso F. Sanchez was also fined $2,000 and must register as a child abuser

September 23, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A Martinsburg man who was convicted of child abuse and neglect charges stemming from the October 2008 fracture of his infant daughter's skull was sentenced Thursday to serve a total of three to 15 years in a state prison.

Alfonso F. Sanchez, 28, also was fined $2,000 by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh, who rejected a plea agreement earlier this year that would have allowed him to avoid time behind bars for the injury of his nearly 5-month-old daughter.

Sanchez also is expected to pay restitution and must register as a child abuser with the West Virginia State Police after serving a two- to 10-year sentence for his conviction on one felony count of child abuse causing serious bodily injury and a one- to five-year sentence for one felony count of child neglect creating a substantial risk of bodily injury. Groh ordered Sanchez to serve the sentences consecutively.

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While Groh said she believes that Sanchez is remorseful, the judge noted a jury last month essentially found that he caused a "grave injury," which caused a serious risk of death.

Martinsburg Police Department Lt. George Swartwood, who investigated the case, told the court that Sanchez did not say what happened to his daughter, Jada, until Oct. 31, 2008, more than 10 days after the child was injured on Oct. 19.

"Someone has to speak up for Jada. That is what the jury has done and that is what I hope the court will do," Swartwood said before Groh announced her decision.

In a lengthy police interview on Oct. 31, 2008, Sanchez initially denied knowing what happened to the child and then admitted that "he was asleep and heard one of his other daughters yell and when he jumped up, he tripped the rocker baby chair that Jada was in and she flipped over in it," according to a complaint Swartwood filed in magistrate court.

"After repeated questioning he then admitted that the metal bar on the chair struck the baby in the head when it flipped over," Swartwood said in the complaint.

The family's fear that the child will suffer residual health problems has made her welfare worrisome for the family, Jada's grandmother, Shelley Kister, told the court.

"It's been a horrible two years," Kister said.

Given the seriousness of the crime, Berkeley County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Gregory Jones told the judge that the state didn't feel Sanchez was entitled to mercy, which could have taken the form of probation, home confinement or a lighter prison term.

In February, Groh rejected a plea agreement that would have allowed Sanchez to plead guilty under an Alford plea to misdemeanor counts of domestic battery and contributing to the neglect of a child, according to court records.

Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges the state has sufficient evidence to gain a conviction.

After reviewing a pre-plea report and considering objections to the proposed plea agreement by Swartwood and Jada's mother, Groh concluded the plea deal was "not consistent with the public interest in the fair administration of justice," according to court records.

Jones on Thursday acknowledged the shortcomings of plea agreements, but countered they sometimes are made when obtaining a conviction if a case will be difficult.

The jury deliberated for several hours before returning a guilty verdict, Jones said last month.

Before hearing sentencing arguments, Groh denied post-trial motions, including one for a new trial by defense attorney Robin Skinner Prinz.

Prinz renewed arguments that said the state should have tried Sanchez on the pending charges within three "unexcused" terms of circuit court as required by state code. Skinner had noted that three terms of court (May 2009, October 2009 and February 2010) passed since her client was indicted.

Groh noted Thursday that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals did not accept a writ that challenged her ruling.

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