NEW HAVEN, Conn. – A judge on Friday spared a man from prison time for his role in the dehydration death of a toddler who was deprived of liquids for at least a week.
Despite criticism from the victim's mother, who cried throughout the sentencing hearing, New Haven Superior Court Judge Richard Damiani sentenced Robert Patterson to five years' probation in the death of 23-month-old Amari Jackson.
Charges of manslaughter, cruelty and and risk of injury to a minor are pending against Robert Patterson's sister Sharon Patterson, who police say was primarily responsible for the little boy's death in February.
Hamden police say Sharon Patterson deprived the boy of liquids for at least seven days because he wet a bed. They say she also left cups laced with hot sauce around her apartment to teach him a lesson about drinking from other people's glasses.
Prosecutor Michael Pepper said that although Robert Patterson witnessed the abuse, his role was, at worst, "arguably passive."
Sharon Patterson was taking care of the boy for an ailing friend, Sara Hicks.
"I understand that Amari was not left in the direct care of Robert Patterson, but does that give him a right to watch my son be tortured, do nothing about it and get away scot-free?" Hicks wrote in a victim's statement read in court Friday.
Robert Patterson had reached a plea deal with authorities in September, pleaded guilty to risk of injury to a minor. The charge could have brought up to 10 years in prison, but the plea deal included the recommended probationary sentence that the judge imposed Friday.
"You have a lot to think about, Mr. Patterson," Damiani said.
Robert Patterson, who bowed his head as the victim's advocate read Hicks' statement, did not comment in court or after his sentence. His attorney said after sentencing that her client feels terrible about what happened.
"The temptation when a child dies is to fix the blame on someone," defense attorney Jane Grossman said. "Unfortunately, that's not always possible. This is a complicated case and we're grateful the judicial system took the time to look at it carefully and reach a fair result."
Lawyers in the case have said that Sharon Patterson has mental health issues. She has been ruled incompetent to stand trial, but she is receiving psychiatric treatment and another hearing on her competency is set for next month.
Hicks said that the Pattersons, who were her friends, were caring for her son while she was sick with a fever and tending to her 8-month-old daughter.
Amari was a healthy toddler when he was dropped off at the Pattersons and was able to articulate when he was hungry or thirsty, Hicks said in her statement. But when she saw him in the hospital, his bones were sticking out of his neck from malnutrition.
Sharon Patterson told police she had been smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol the day before Amari died, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. She also told them she had previously lost custody of four children because of drug addiction.
(This version corrects that child was not deprived of food.)