Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Man gets 10-20 years in toddler's death

by on April 11, 2014 11:00 AM

A Blairsville-area man was ordered this morning to serve 10 to 20 years in prison in connection with the death of his 22-month-old stepson almost one year ago.

Indiana County Judge William Martin sentenced Juan Campbell, 25, for his guilty plea to a single charge of third-degree murder in the death of Malachi Patterson.

Martin acknowledged Campbell’s apology in court before he sent him to prison and assessed him almost $4,700 in costs of prosecution.

According to charges filed by state police, Campbell covered Malachi’s mouth with his hand in an attempt to stop him from whimpering while the boy was in bed early on May 17, 2013, then phoned 911 for help when Malachi stopped breathing.

The boy was in a body cast and was recovering from a broken leg, prosecutors said.

The child’s mother, Jamie Campbell, was away from home at the time, having given birth to a baby in Indiana Regional Medical Center.

According to investigators, Juan Campbell said that he put Malachi to bed on the evening of May 16 and later brought him to his own bedroom. He said he woke around 2 a.m. to use the bathroom and told police that Malachi rolled off the bed and hit his head on a nightstand, but the child was whimpering so he covered his mouth and nasal passages until he stopped.

Malachi was sent first to IRMC then was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where doctors found no brain activity.

He was removed from life support and died May 19, 2013.

Troopers initially charged Campbell with assault-related charges, then upgraded the case to criminal homicide after the boy died.

In a plea agreement approved in court on Jan. 27, prosecutors set aside charges of aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of a child.

Campbell “has not been the kind of person you would expect to do this,” his defense attorney, Aaron Ludwig, told Martin before the sentence was imposed. “He has never questioned his culpability.”

“I would just like to apologize,” Campbell said. “I would give my life to have him back again.”

Martin said a presentence investigation showed Campbell had no serious criminal record and that he merited a sentence in a standard range. He noted that the defense asked to void the plea agreement if Campbell would be given more than 20 years in prison, but said a term of less than 10 to 20 years would be “inappropriate.”

Third-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years.

“You have cooperated with police and the district attorney, you accepted responsibility and have shown genuine remorse,” Martin said.

Malachi Patterson’s father, Devon Bailey, said he didn’t believe Campbell was sincere.

He quietly spoke to Judge Martin before Campbell was sentenced, then said after the hearing that he believed Campbell had intent.

“It doesn’t matter if you say, ‘drugs were in my system, I didn’t know what I was doing,’” Bailey said. “He knew what he was doing.”

He called the apology BS: “Unless you have a magic power to bring my son back, I don’t believe it.”

“There’s no reason a man should treat a baby like that,” he continued. “When a baby is crying, he needs a bottle or to have his diaper changed. He had no right to take (his anger) out on a 22-month-old child.”

Bailey, of White Township, attended the hearing with his wife, Lynette. He said he only was allowed to visit with Malachi about 10 to 15 minutes at a time and rarely had him for an entire day.

The last time they spent a day together, in April 2013, Bailey remembered, they dined at a Chinese restaurant.

The last time he saw him, Malachi was in Children’s Hospital. He said he knew his son was injured only because Jamie Campbell’s mother phoned him.

Now, Bailey said, he sees Malachi’s grave in Oakland Cemetery when he drives by twice a day on Oakland Avenue.

If the Campbells couldn’t manage to take care of Malachi, they should have given him custody, Bailey said.

“I guess he wasn’t man enough to say he couldn’t do this.”

District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said Malachi’s parents both agreed to the plea bargain with Campbell. Devon Bailey said he disagreed with the sentence.

“Ten to twenty, I can understand if you kill a man. But if you kill a child, you deserve to give your life to the system,” he said.

At the time Campbell’s attorney proposed the plea bargain, Dougherty said he accepted it as the same verdict he would have expected a jury to deliver.

“I thought from the very beginning that this was murder three,” Dougherty said. “With murder one, you’ve got to show premeditation, and I’m not sure we would ever have been able to show the level of premeditation that juries want, in this case.”

Dougherty said what Campbell did fit the definition of third-degree murder.

“It’s a murder with malice — reckless conduct that would lead a person to reasonably believe that death would occur, and that’s what we have here,” he said. “Placing a hand over a child’s mouth and smothering the child is an intentional act, but I don’t think it was premeditated.”

Chauncey Ross is the Gazette’s fixture at Indiana Area and Homer-Center school board meetings, has been seen with pen and notepad in area police stations and courts, and is something of an Open Records Act and Sunshine Law advocate. He also manages the Gazette’s websites and answers your questions about them.
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