Seven-week-old Owen was a poster child for child abuse, said the Madison County judge who handed a 24-year prison sentence Tuesday to the man who broke the infant’s ribs and skull.
Circuit Judge Kyle Napp gave the sentence to Kamryn Kerr on charges of aggravated battery to a child. The child, who survived the abuse, is the son of Kerr’s former girlfriend.
“Never think for a minute that what happened to Owen was not horrific,” Napp said.
Kerr, 21, was convicted by a jury in January of four counts of aggravated battery to a child. Napp dismissed one of those counts after the verdict because a doctor who treated the baby could not conclusively say the baby’s leg was fractured.
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But Napp noted during Tuesday morning’s sentencing that the baby suffered fractures to every rib and a skull fracture.
“If you look at what happened to Owen in his 7 weeks of life, it’s horrific,” Napp said.
If you look at what happened to Owen in his 7 weeks of life, it’s horrific.
Circuit Judge Kyle Napp
Ashley Wethington, Owen’s 19-year-old mother, also faces charges, but they are pending. She testified as a prosecution witness during Kerr’s trial. She remains in Madison County Jail.
Kerr and Wethington were residing in Granite City when the child was injured.
Assistant State’s Attorney Kathleen Nolan asked for a sentence of 10 years on each count, to be served back-to-back.
She recounted for Napp the trial testimony of doctors who treated Owen, who stated the baby was beaten, bruised and barely alive when Kerr and Wethington arrived at Gateway Regional Medical Center in Granite City on Sept. 8, 2014. The baby was transferred to Cardinal Glennon Memorial Hospital for Children because of the extent of his injuries, Nolan said.
Kerr’s attorney, Thomas Maag, asked Napp to consider concurrent six-year sentences because the indictment didn’t state that the injuries occurred at separate times. He stated that six years would send a deterrent message while affording Kerr a chance at rehabilitation after his release. Or, Maag asked, Napp could sentence Kerr to the minimum on each count, if she found the sentences must be served one after the other.
Maag also noted that the case was not as severe as other recent cases where children were burned with cigarettes or locked in cages.
Doctors who treated Owen said the baby was beaten, bruised and barely alive when Kamryn Kerr and Ashley Wethington arrived at Gateway Regional Medical Center in Granite City on Sept. 8, 2014.
“If you look at the evidence most favorable to the state, Kerr held Owen too close to his chest,” Maag said. “That’s not a beating. That’s not a kicking.”
Kerr told the judge that he was sorry about his involvement in a “very unfortunate and sad case involving a child.” He said he was not a violent person and came from a good family. Kerr told Napp he wanted a chance to get an education and have a life.
Wendy and Cass Hierman, Kerr’s mother and step-father, said Kerr met Wethington when she was seven months pregnant and wanted to help her. He was working at Coffee Cartel and living in the Central West End in St. Louis. The Hiermans said they didn’t approve, but Kerr moved in with Wethington and her mother, Peggy.
The Heirmans said they knew that Kerr did not injure the child. Wendy Hierman said Kerr was sensitive and emotional.
“I know he didn’t do this,” she said.
“For Kamryn to hurt a child, it is unfathomable,” said Cass Heirman, adding that the jury in Kerr’s case may have judged him for his tattoos and piercings, instead of his actions.
The boy at the center of the case is now a little more than a year old, and in a foster home. At first, his case manager said, Owen had a hard time bonding and cried when unfamiliar people were around, but that’s changed over time.
But Nolan, the prosecutor, noted that Kerr did give a statement to Granite City police.
Napp found the statute was clear: The sentences must be served consecutively. She split the requests and sentenced Kerr to eight years on each count. Kerr must serve 85 percent before he is eligible for release.
The boy at the center of the case is now a little more than a year old. He’s in a foster home. Wethington named at least two men as Owen’s biological father, but paternity tests showed they weren’t, testified Sarah Vadnis, the child’s case manager.
At first, Vadnis said Owen had a hard time bonding and cried when unfamiliar people were around, but that’s changed over time.
“He’s developmentally on track. He’s a happy, healthy baby,” she said.
Nolan showed two pictures of the baby. In the first, he is smiling into the camera with a sprout of auburn hair. In the other, he was wearing a bathing suit and sandals on a beach with his foster parents.
At the end of the hearing, Kerr, now facing 24 years in prison, asked Napp for permission to hug his mother and stepfather before being taken back to jail. Napp declined the request, as it violated sheriff’s department policy.