Man pleads to lesser misdemeanor in severe child abuse case in Moffat County court
A South Carolina man formerly of Moffat County who avoided a felony child abuse conviction after a mistrial in September pleaded guilty Tuesday, Feb. 12, to a lesser misdemeanor child abuse charge in Judge Michael A. O’Hara III’s Moffat County courtroom.
James Edward Vaughan, 39, was indicted June 28 on a charge of third-degree felony child abuse.
According to the indictment, on Aug. 21, 2016, the young victim was brought to the emergency room at The Memorial Hospital with “a massive head injury that included a skull fracture and bleeding on the brain.”
The indictment describes the head injury as so severe that the child’s brain had swelled out through the “significant gap in the places between the edges of the fracture.”
“These injuries were life-threatening at the time; have caused substantial impairment, including partial paralysis, vision loss, inability to swallow (the child is fed through a stomach tube); and developmental delay, and are likely to have lifelong effects,” the indictment read.
At the time, investigators said both parents denied injuring the child.
“Both offered possibilities that the child had fallen off the bed or fallen out of a chair or had been stumbled over by a parent while the child was sleeping in a bouncer,” the indictment read. “The examining physician was of the opinion that those mechanisms were not consistent with the massive injuries the child had suffered.”
But it seems the very examining physician upon whom prosecutors had depended so heavily during the initial investigation provided testimony that created doubt in the jury’s minds.
“In the weeks leading up to the trial, (the examining physician) did an almost 180-degree turnabout,” said prosecutor Matthew Tjosvold during sentencing arguments Tuesday.
Tjosvold said the examining physician told jurors it was possible the child’s injuries could have been caused by a parent tripping on the child or the child hitting their head on a bed frame.
“That change in information made it, not impossible, but highly improbable, that the people would have secured a guilty verdict at trial,” Tjosvold said. “Hence this negotiated settlement where Mr. Vaughan does acknowledge a knowing infliction of bodily injury on a child. It is imperfect justice for (the victim), and it is to the people’s great regret that we came to this position, to this end. But it will close this chapter.”
Moments later, Vaughan pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of misdemeanor child abuse, agreeing to a sentence of 305 days time he already served and restitution of $1,590. Vaughan also pleaded guilty to possession of a schedule II controlled substance and received one year of unsupervised probation. Vaughan does not have to report to a probation officer during this time.
Vaughan declined to make any statement after his guilty plea, but O’Hara said he believes Vaughan is pleading guilty to avoid further legal proceedings.
“It does appear to me that Mr. Vaughan is electing to plea guilty in order to take advantage of the plea agreement in this case and avoid more serious consequences should he go to trial,” the judge said.
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