CECIL COUNTY — A man who shook a 5-month-old baby in his Cecil County household, causing significant injury to the infant’s brain, received a two-year jail term after accepting a binding plea deal, according to court records.
Cecil County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Keith A. Baynes imposed an eight-year sentence on Paul Frederick Herd Sr., 58, on Monday and then suspended six years of the penalty, in accordance with the terms of a binding plea agreement negotiated by Assistant State’s Attorney Nathaniel Bowen and the defendant’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Nicholas Cooksley.
The judge gave Herd credit for the seven months that he had served in the Cecil County Detention Center since his March 31 arrest.
State sentencing guidelines, which are based on a defendant’s criminal record and other factors, set a penalty range of one to six years of active incarceration for Herd.
Also in line with the binding plea agreement, Baynes ordered Herd to serve three years of supervised probation after completing his two-year term.
Baynes imposed the sentence on Herd moments after he had entered an Alford plea to second-degree custodial child abuse, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. In an Alford plea, a defendant maintains his innocence while acknowledging that the state possesses enough evidence to convict him or her at trial.
As part of the binding plea deal, the state dismissed the two most serious charges against Herd — first-degree child abuse resulting in serious physical injury and first-degree assault, each of which carries a maximum 25-year sentence. The state also dropped three lesser charges.
The investigation started on March 19, when Cecil County Sheriff’s Office Det. Chase Armington responded to Nemours A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, Del., after physicians there alerted that they were treating a 5-month-old baby for “injuries consistent with physical abuse,” police said.
Doctors reported that the infant was “actively seizing with no medical explanation,” that a CAT scan revealed the infant was suffering from “acute and chronic” bleeding inside the head; and that a retinal scan indicated “significant (bleeding) in both eyes,” police added.
“The ruptured blood vessels in the retinal area were too numerous to count. Medical professionals advised (that) the injuries present were inconsistent with the explanation given at the time the infant was presented to the medical staff. Det. Armington was advised that the mechanism of injury was physical abuse consistent with shaking, unless or until, proven otherwise,” according to court records.
That prompted Armington to conduct separate interviews with five other people who were living in the house with the baby – the infant’s mother, the mother’s boyfriend and the mothers’s two other children, who are elementary-school aged, police reported.
The mother told Armington that the baby and her two other children had been left in the sole care of Herd on March 14 and again on March 17, police said. The mother also told the investigator that she noticed a change in the baby’s behavior on March 16, police added.
“The infant was refusing (its) bottle, sleeping off and on, and being abnormally fussy. Through March 16 through March 18, the infant’s condition continued to deteriorate, prompting the mother to schedule an appointment with a pediatrician,” court records show.
On the morning of March 19, however, the baby started seizing and, after consulting the pediatrician on the phone, the mother called 911 — resulting in an ambulance crew driving the infant to A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital, police reported.
The mother’s boyfriend, during his separate interview, gave a similar account of when Herd was alone with the baby and the other two children in the house, police said. He, too, also told Armington that the baby had been moody and had a diminished appetite, police added.
In addition, according to court records, the mother’s boyfriend reported that he noticed a small bruise on the baby’s face on the night of March 17 and that he was unsure of the cause.
The mother’s boyfriend also noted Herd had told him that, on March 14, one of the elementary-aged children had tripped over the baby while the infant was on the floor — an incident that occurred while all three children were in Herd’s sole care, court records show.
During their separate interviews, the elementary-aged children gave similar accounts of Herd’s purported reaction after the tripping incident took place, police said.
The older of the two children described Herd as “mad” at the sibling who had tripped over the baby, police added.
That older child told Armington that Herd then picked up the infant and “shook her up and down saying, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay’,” court records show.
The younger of the two elementary-aged children told the investigator that Herd picked up the baby and “moved (the infant) up and down” while saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay.”
During his interview, Herd told investigators that the tripping incident occurred on March 17, not March 14, and that the baby was not injured and was “doing fine” and “taking bottles normally,” police reported.
When asked about the events of the March 13-15 weekend, according to court records, investigators noticed a “significant behavior change” in Herd. Investigators observed Herd “look away and appear withdrawn while giving answers to specific questions,” police reported.
Herd denied watching the baby and the two older children over the March 13-15 weekend, until detectives shared details given during other interviews, police said. At that point, police added, Herd “admitted to watching the children, but only for 30 minutes.”
When asked to detail what occurred right before and directly after the baby’s mother called 911 on the morning of March 19, Herd told investigators that the infant was “barely conscious,” and that he attempted to help the baby while waiting for the ambulance, police reported.
“I (Herd) kept holding (the baby’s hands) and keeping (the baby) alert, because I know when you have a concussion, you don’t go to sleep,” according to court records, which qualify, “(Herd) would have had no knowledge the infant had a head injury at the time 911 was contacted unless there was prior knowledge of the mechanism of injury.”