An Idaho Falls man was sentenced to a minimum of two years for his son’s death after he entered an Alford plea for involuntary manslaughter.
An Alford plea is reached when a defendant admits there is sufficient evidence to convict even though they maintain their innocence.
Because Robert Lawrence Saad Sr. has been in jail for two years while the case has proceeded, he already is eligible for parole. It will be up to the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole to decide when to review his case.
The plea deal came after the Bonneville County Public Defender’s Office spoke to experts who came to a different conclusion about when the victim’s injury happened than what witnesses initially detailed.
Saad, 32, was arrested in 2017 and charged with first-degree murder. An Idaho Falls Police Department investigation found 9-month-old Robert Saad Jr.’s injuries could not have occurred accidentally. The charges were filed after doctors at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center and Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City told police the injuries could not have been caused by a fall.
The child died on Sept. 18, 2016, three days after he was hospitalized. Saad had called police, saying his son had stopped breathing. According to Saad, his son was turning around to greet his grandmother when he fell off a couch and hit his head on the carpeted floor.
In January 2018, Dr. Erik Christensen, chief medical examiner for the Utah Department of Health, testified at Saad’s preliminary hearing that the injuries the victim suffered were too severe to have come from a fall, and were likely caused by acute trauma to the head.
The child had an occipital fracture to the back of his skull and a broken left arm. Bruising was found on his back.
Saad told police the head injury may have happened in an earlier incident in which his son fell backward and hit his head on a rock.
Bonneville County Chief Public Defender Jordan Crane said he contacted another doctor for a second opinion on the injuries. In contrast to Christensen, who concluded the injury happened the day the child was hospitalized, Crane’s witness said there was evidence of healing that showed the injury was as much as a week old.
Crane said if the case had gone to trial, he also would have called a biomechanical engineer to testify that the skull fracture could have resulted from a fall.
The defense and prosecution jointly agreed to recommend a sentence of two years fixed in prison and eight indeterminate, for a total sentence of 10 years, the maximum allowed for involuntary manslaughter.
Bonneville County Assistant Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tanner Crowther emphasized that the plea agreement and reduced charge were not an act of leniency, but based on what he thought the evidence warranted.
Crowther pointed to evidence that remained unaddressed, including the unexplained bruises on the victim. He said an X-ray performed the day the child was taken to the hospital did not find bruising on his head as would be expected from a fall. He also cited Saad’s criminal history, consisting of several misdemeanors when he was a teenager, including a misdemeanor battery.
Saad told District Judge Bruce Pickett he wanted to serve his time and put his life together. He said he entered the Alford plea because of the lower prison sentence.
“I have lost my family, my son, my livelihood,” Saad said.
Pickett cited his own experience as both a defense attorney and a prosecutor when considering the case and how new evidence can change the nature of a case during court proceedings. He also pointed out that many of the injuries remain unexplained.
Pickett said, however, there was no doubt the victim suffered injuries, and that they happened under Saad’s care. He agreed to accept the plea deal and the sentence.