Bonneville County Assistant Chief Deputy Prosecutor Russell Spencer did not hold back in describing the victim’s brutal injuries.
The infant’s temporal lobes had been turned to mush from physical abuse. She had suffered multiple broken bones in her six weeks since birth. A doctor determined the victim would need care for the rest of her life to cope with the damage to her brain and body.
“These were the worst injuries he had ever observed on a patient that was still living,” Spencer said.
James and Amanda Berry, 23 and 24, respectively, both gave Alford pleas to felony injury to a child charges Monday, admitting the prosecution had evidence to convict them for abusing their daughter, but without admitting to the actual crimes.
District Judge Dane Watkins Jr. sentenced both defendants to prison, giving Amanda Berry a shorter term because she took the baby to a hospital, likely saving her life. James Berry was ordered to serve a minimum of five-and-a-half years in prison and up to 15 years. Amanda Berry will serve a minimum of four years and up to 14 years.
Spencer revealed in court the victim had been placed in foster care and was being cared for by her grandparents. He said there had been hopeful signs that she may be able to learn to walk, that she was eating better and had started using both of her arms.
Doctors are also hopeful she may be able to see, despite the damage to her brain.
“Her eyes can see, though at present her brain can’t register what her eyes are seeing,” Spencer said. He added that the infant would have a shortened life expectancy.
Spencer acknowledged that both defendants had no criminal history. He noted, however, that a presentence investigator found both Amanda and James Berry did not seem remorseful in interviews.
Both parents told police they “blacked out” while caring for the baby, and could not remember abusing her, though James Berry acknowledged he likely broke the victim’s ribs.
Defense Attorney Neal Randall, representing James, disputed that his client wasn’t remorseful.
“He was definitely concerned about his child,” Randall said.
Randall also said the reason for the Alford plea was because his client could not remember the incident, and therefore could not otherwise admit to the allegations.
Defense attorney Rocky Wixom, representing Amanda Berry, gave the court mental health records showing his client had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, major depression and selective mutism. Selective mutism is “a rare and multidimensional childhood disorder that typically affects children entering school age” … “characterized by the persistent failure to speak in select social settings despite possessing the ability to speak and speak comfortably in more familiar settings,” according to the National Institutes of Health.
Wixom also suggested James Berry should bear the greater responsibility for the abuse, saying James had isolated Amanda from her family. Spencer argued, however, that they bore equal responsibility, noting that Amanda had been the one watching the victim the day she was hospitalized.
James Berry did not give a statement to the court. Amanda Berry gave a brief statement.
“I wish I could take it back every day,” Amanda Berry said.
Watkins described the victim as a “miracle baby” for surviving her injuries.
Watkins noted the extent of the damage would not be known until the baby was older. He said he did not know what to make of the blackouts described by both parents, saying it was “troubling.”
“We don’t know whether or not this child will be restored fully,” Watkins said. “It’s unlikely.”