Tavon Ludy will spend three decades in prison for the murder of 5-year-old Torian Whitaker, his fiance’s son.
Ludy received a 30-year prison sentence on Thursday in Madison County Circuit Court.
Ludy appeared in prison stripes and shackles. He spoke in his own defense, breaking down crying several times. He said he tried to raise the boys the best way he knew how and didn’t mean to kill Torian.
“Torian was not the only one who died in that house,” he said. “My spirit died with him.”
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It was Torian’s 5th birthday, and his mother was out buying him a birthday present when Ludy, 27, punched him in the chest on Sept. 29, 2013. He had beaten both boys in the past with belts and punched them, according to testimony offered at trial, and waited 10 minutes to call 911 as he texted the boys’ mother while Torian lay on the floor.
The jury convicted him of first-degree murder and aggravated battery of a child. Torian’s older brother, Zajamin, was found with bruises on his body on the day Torian died.
Defense attorney David Fahrenkamp opened the sentencing hearing Thursday by asking for a new trial, with an argument that the photos of Zajamin’s injuries were prejudicial toward the murder charge in Torian’s death and that the cases should not have been tried at the same time. Prosecutor Jennifer Mudge said the evidence of Zajamin’s beating and Torian’s death would have been offered at both trials anyway by statute.
Circuit Judge Kyle Napp said that she did not believe the jury was confused and that the same pattern of child abuse described at trial applied to both boys. As far as the photos, Napp said the prosecution presented dozens of photos from the autopsy, but she did not allow most of them to be presented and ordered others to be cropped. “I don’t believe that these were substantially prejudicial in any way,” Napp said.
Ludy told the judge he is dedicating himself to faith and wishes every night he could bring Torian back. He said he has lost everything he had. “I’m not a bully, not a monster,” he said. “I took a responsibility and I failed at that. ... I’m human, I made mistakes in my life, and one of the biggest mistakes of my life was Sept. 29.”
But Mudge called Ludy “despicable” despite his new faith. She said Torian and Zajamin deserve justice.
“If that is how he shows love, I’d hate to see how he treats people he hates,” she said. “Their mother was out of the house for 20 minutes and he started in on those boys.”
She pointed out that both boys were abused over a long period of time outside of their mother’s presence, when no one was watching, and that Torian had been beaten for wetting the bed. DCFS had visited the house twice, and there was family around them that failed to intervene.
“The system failed them, everyone failed them,” she said. She said if Torian had not died, the boys would still be subjected to beatings.
Fahrenkamp said there is a “Twitter-based tyranny” in the modern world that leads to absolutism in response to these stories, that in earlier generations and in some cultures, spanking was not only permitted, but encouraged. Now we know better, he said, but there are few guidelines and limits. He pointed out that Ludy has lost his family and must bear the guilt that the blow that killed Torian came from him.
“I would never be persuaded that Tavon intended to kill Torian,” Fahrenkamp said. “There’s no evidence to suggest that. ... He’s a good man, and he did something wrong. I don’t think he’s a piece of trash.”
Fahrenkamp said there’s a callousness to lawyers in criminal justice to think of years as currency, but it is important to remember that one of the factors is the likelihood that it will ever happen again. “There is nothing to suggest he would ever do this again,” he said.
But Napp said she instructed the jury on involuntary manslaughter as well as murder, and they chose to convict on the charge of murder. She said she agreed that no one believes Ludy intended to kill Torian. But the argument made during trial was that Ludy was a 200-pound man who struck a young boy in the chest with “alarming” force.
“Does that make him a bad person? Not at all, but it does make him a killer,” Napp said. “Nobody wins. There is no sentence I can hand out that ... satisfies everyone in this case because it’s impossible.”
She sentenced Ludy to three years for beating Zajamin, to run concurrently with the 30-year prison sentence for murder, of which he must serve 100 percent. It will be followed by three years’ probation.
The prosecution had rested after two days of testimony and evidence. Fahrenkamp declined to put on any witnesses or evidence after Napp ruled that the report of a previous investigation by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services was inadmissible. DCFS’ investigation had concluded that prior reports of child abuse were unfounded, but Napp said that DCFS investigations do not rise to the level of a criminal investigation.