Lee Crutchfield, the man convicted of the fatal Christmas Eve 2005 beating of 6-year-old Ryon Smith, vowed to keep fighting to prove his innocence moments before he was sentenced Monday to natural life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"I did not kill Ryon Smith," he told St. Clair Associate Judge Brian Babka.
A jury convicted Lee D. Crutchfield, 39, of first-degree murder in December. Ryon was the son of Crutchfield's live-in girlfriend.
But before he was sentenced, he tried to fire his lawyer, public defender Thomas Q. Keefe III, because he said Keefe failed to call witnesses Crutchfield wanted to testify. Crutchfield then asked for a new trial because all of the witnesses he wanted called weren't and because the jury got to see graphic photos of Ryon.
Babka turned him down.
Keefe then argued that an Illinois court invalidated the law that mandated a life sentence for those who are convicted of killing a person less than 12 years old. Keefe argued that because that law was no longer valid, Crutchfield was eligible for a 20- to 60-year prison sentence.
Assistant State's Attorney Steve Sallerson countered that a newer law supplanted the previous law, once again making a life sentence mandatory for child killers.
Sallerson argued that Crutchfield tortured Ryon, locking him in a closet for days "like a caged animal" and beating him, leaving bruises and cuts on the boy.
"He needs to spend the rest of his life in prison for what he did to that little boy who suffered that Christmas Day, like no child should ever suffer," Sallerson said.
Ryon was found on Dec. 25, 2005, in the Cahokia home the boy shared with his mother, Starr Lohman, his half-brother RonTre and Crutchfield. Police who were called to the home found Ryon on the bedroom floor not breathing.
Lohman told jurors at Crutchfield's trial in December that she saw Crutchfield hit Ryon 20 to 30 times. Crutchfield told police that he punched Ryon twice in the head and twice in the chest after the child called him a racial slur, then bit his finger.
After the beating, Ryon was locked in a closet for hours. Lohman and Crutchfield told police they often did that to punish the boy.
Babka concurred with Sallerson.
"Little Ryon spent the last hours of his life dying alone in a dark closet. The court's just sentence assures the defendant will spend the rest of his life until death in a dark prison cell," said State's Attorney Brendan Kelly. "This battle to bring justice to a little boy has been hard fought over several years. Now, the battle is over, justice has been done, and Ryon can rest in peace."
During the hearing, Brenda Watts, Ryon's grandmother, delivered a victim impact statement. She described Ryon as a happy, polite boy.
Watts told Babka that it took longer for Crutchfield to get to his sentencing than Ryon was alive.
Lee's mother, Gloria Crutchfield, asked Babka for leniency in sentencing.
She said Lee Crutchfield was raised in a Christian home, attended college, had no criminal record and was a wonderful parent to his four children. She further stated many friends and family members would help support Crutchfield if he was ever released from prison.
Just before Crutchfield was asked whether he wanted to make a statement, he turned and looked at Watts, who earlier described seeing her grandson's bruised body on the floor of the trailer just before he was removed by the coroner.
"I understand your loss," Crutchfield told her. He then went on to ask about the process of appealing the verdict and sentence.
In two weeks, Watts will be in court again to see her daughter plead guilty to a charge of aggravated battery to a child. She agreed to testify against Crutchfield in exchange for a 15- to 30-year prison sentence
Ryon loved his two cousins, who were the same age and grew up together, Watts said. Watts called them "The Three Musketeers." She recalled that Ryon never asked for one cookie. He asked for three -- one each for him and his two cousins.
Lohman and Ryon lived with Jessie Stillman, Ryon's great-grandmother, before they moved to Cahokia. Stillman babysat Ryon. She cried as Watts told the judge that Ryon always had a ball in his hand and love to play catch.
"I just have to put this in God's hands," Watts said after the hearing. "I can't be angry because the only one that would punish would be me. I am OK with this because it's about justice for Ryon."